Press release

New West Coast rail franchise to deliver 28,000 more seats

28,000 more seats for passengers travelling between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.

Passengers travelling between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow are set to benefit from an extra 28,000 seats a day under a new flexible franchise agreement which will allow more services to be scheduled around busy periods.

In addition, a long franchise of up to 15 years for the West Coast Main Line (WCML) will encourage the new operator to invest in improvements at stations and help drive down excessive costs. Other benefits for passengers will include the introduction of smart ticketing technology, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers said today as she launched the Invitation to Tender.

Theresa Villiers said:

Passengers will welcome the 28,000 additional seats this new franchise will deliver everyday on what is becoming one of the UK’s busiest rail lines. A longer, more flexible franchise will encourage private sector investment, for example in improving stations. It will also promote greater efficiency to enable improvements to be made whilst driving down costs.

The introduction of new requirements on passenger satisfaction will mean the operator has to focus strongly on the issues that matter most to passengers; and the roll out of smart ticketing will provide many more passengers with greater convenience and the sort of advantages already enjoyed in the capital.

The new franchise will run from December 2012 to March 2026, with an option for the department to extend for up to 20 months.

A total of 106 new ‘Pendolino’ carriages are being added to the West Coast route, enabling four new train sets to be introduced and 31 existing trains to be lengthened from nine to 11 carriages.

A new flexible franchise agreement gives bidders the flexibility to vary timetables on individual days of the week to cater for changes in demand, enabling the future operator to provide better services for passengers, whilst protecting existing services by specifying a minimum number of stops at each station.

Notes to editors

Virgin Trains’ existing contract to run services on the West Coast Main Line expires on 9 December 2012.

Details published of the new franchise that will take over from 9 December 2012, are set out by the department in an invitation to tender (ITT)

The invitation to tender follows a consultation designed to give the public and stakeholders a chance to have their say on what they wanted from the new franchise.

The proposed train service specification for new Inter City West Coast represents a relaxation from the rigid timetable specification of the past, while retaining obligations that protect the key outcomes for passengers and taxpayers, such as principal first and last trains and minimum numbers of station stops per week and per day. This marks a significant shift from the micro-management that has prevented operators from maximising capacity and reacting to the changing demands of their passengers in the past.

The four shortlisted bidders to run the franchise from December 2012 are Abellio, First Group, Keolis/SNCF and Virgin.

Bids for the franchise are expected to be received by May 2012 and the new operator will be announced in August 2012. The new InterCity West Coast franchise will run until March 2026, with an option for the Department to extend up to 20 months.

Over the course of the next year, three new 600-seat Pendolino trains will be added to the line. This is in addition to the new Pendolino which entered service in July this year. Also, 31 existing Pendolinos will be lengthened from 9 to 11 carriages, increasing the number of standard class seats on each train by almost 50%, from 320 to 470. In all, 106 new carriages are being introduced on the route making 28,000 extra seats available each day, an increase of 25%. The latest Pendolino train, which will eventually enhance capacity on the West Coast Main Line was delivered earlier this week on the 16 January.

When the government set out its plans on franchise reform, it acknowledged that each franchise contract needs to reflect the different characteristics of the lines and services it covers. Therefore the requirements set out in the West Coast Franchise may not necessarily become standard terms in every subsequent rail franchise.

The government is committed to getting all possible capacity from the WCML. However, Network Rail’s own forecasts show that the scope for further upgrades will soon be exhausted and the line will be full by the mid-2020s. So while 28,000 extra seats will be provided from the start of this new franchise, the government considers HS2 - a new high speed rail network from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds - to be the only long term solution to capacity problems. HS2 will provide the future rail capacity that Britain needs and provide relief to the WCML. The new West Coast franchise has been timed to conclude in 2026 as the first phase of HS2 opens.

The ITT for the InterCity West Coast franchise follows the current agreed regulated fares policy as set out in the 2011 comprehensive spending review - a rise in 2012 of RPI+1% and RPI+3% for 2013 and 2014, returning to RPI+1% thereafter. Over the long term we are committed to reducing the cost of running the railways and the goal of ending the era of above-inflation fare increases.

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