A new deal for rail services on the West Coast Main Line that will bring thousands more seats, free wi-fi and pave the way for new journeys on the route has been awarded to West Coast Trains Limited (Virgin), Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced today (19 June 2014).
The direct award contract will run for 2 years and 9 months and see the train operator continue to provide vital passenger journeys between London, Scotland and Wales as the government forges ahead with its multi-billion pound investment to improve and maintain our railways.
The new contract will bring £35 million worth of passenger benefits, including:
21 first-class carriages converted to standard class, delivering 5,500 extra standard seats per day across the network
free wi-fi at stations and improved coverage across the entire fleet
more than £20 million invested to modernise and enhance stations, including improving waiting rooms, seats and shelters
£2.5 million to improve the interiors of the Pendolino train fleet, as well as £2.75 million spent on improving catering facilities
improved station cleanliness and accessibility
new targets for passenger satisfaction, train punctuality and cleanliness
plans developed to increase car parking at Carlisle, Lancaster and Stafford
In addition, Virgin will now start work to secure new direct services between Shrewsbury, Blackpool and London from December, boosting connections for passengers and local businesses. The deal will also create jobs, including apprenticeships and traineeships, underlining the government’s commitment to get more people into work.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:
This deal will provide thousands more seats and better journeys for the tens of thousands of passengers who use these services every day. The West Coast provides a vital artery between London and Scotland and it is crucial we do everything we can to improve services on this much-used route.
This is further proof of our commitment to get the best deal for passengers and taxpayers with Virgin set to pay more than £430 million to run the franchise. It’s all part of our long-term economic plan to drive forward our economy and provide better services now and great services with HS2.
The deal covers a strategically important route in the UK providing commuter, leisure and business journeys between:
The company has also committed to working with Network Rail, communities and stakeholders to look at how further improvements in journey times can be made from London to Scotland. This includes work to remodel Carstairs junction – a significant bottleneck on the network.
Patrick McCall, Virgin Trains Executive Co-Chairman, said:
We’re delighted to have reached a deal after some tough negotiations with the DfT. It puts the problems of 2012 firmly behind us, and shows the clear benefits of a well-run franchise system.
This deal is great news for passengers and taxpayers, with significant benefits for our customers as well as a big increase in the money we pay to government. We know wi-fi is high on our customers’ priorities and we’re delighted that we’re going to be able to offer them free and super-fast wi-fi. Together with thousands of extra seats and plans for new services, this deal will mean big improvements for millions of Virgin Trains passengers.
The company will now submit plans to the Office of Rail Regulation to extend current services from London. Under the plans Shrewsbury would have 2 services in each direction Monday to Saturday and 1 service in each direction on Sunday. Blackpool North would have 1 service in each direction Monday to Friday.
As part of the deal the company has committed to employing at least 30 apprentices, 18 traineeships, four Network Rail Track and Train graduate placements, 12 Virgin Red Track scheme participants and 12 ex-offenders through the St Giles Trust. The new agreement will run until April 2017 when a new competed long-term franchise is expected to commence.
The contract is the sixth direct award to be delivered by the department following the relaunch of its franchising schedule in March last year. Industry expert Richard Brown in his independent report into franchising had advised staggering competitions to make them more deliverable. The government announced a programme of direct awards to deliver this.