Press release

West Coast passengers in line for 28,000 extra seats as franchise extension signed

Extra carriages and more seats for West Coast Main Line passengers.

Passengers using the busy West Coast Main Line are set to benefit from extra carriages and more seats from April next year Rail Minister Theresa Villiers has announced, after the government signed an extension to Virgin Trains’ existing contract to operate services on the line.

Services on the line - which stretches from London to Glasgow serving Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and North Wales - will now be run by Virgin Trains until December 2012. Over the course of the extension 3 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%.

Rail Minister Theresa Villiers said:

The West Coast Main Line is one of our busiest and most important rail arteries. Keeping the existing operator in place while these new trains and carriages are introduced should help ensure they are introduced smoothly onto the network so passengers reap the benefits as soon as possible.

When this extension expires in December 2012, the government will have completed a competition for a new operator to run services on the line under a new longer style of franchise which gives the operator more incentive to invest and more freedom to innovate and deliver for passengers.

These extra seats are great news for passengers, but in the longer term, even with these improvements, the route is expected to be full by 2024. This is why we are considering proposals for a high speed rail line between London, the West Midlands, Manchester, Leeds and potentially beyond.

The department announced its intention to seek an extension to Virgin Trains’ existing contract in May 2011. At the same time the department published details of how the new West Coast franchise that will take over in December 2012 will look, in the form of a draft invitation to tender. The new franchise will run from December 2012 to March 2026 with an option for the department to extend up to 20 months.

The government is currently considering responses to its consultation on proposals for a new high speed rail network and will announce its decision by the end of the year.

Notes to editors

Virgin Trains’ existing contract to run services on the West Coast Main Line would have expired on 31 March 2012. The extension signed today will see it continue to 9 December 2012.

Details published of the new franchise that will take over from 9 December 2012, were set out by the department in a draft invitation to tender (ITT) published in May 2011. The draft ITT is available.

The proposed train service specification for new Inter City West Coast franchise - which will begin in December 2012 once the franchise extension announced today expires - represents a relaxation from the rigid timetable specification of the past, while retaining obligations that protect the key elements of service, 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 DfT expects to publish the final invitation to tender for the new longer intercity west coast franchise in January 2012. The 4 shortlisted bidders to run the franchise from December 2012 are Abellio, First Group, Keolis/SNCF and Virgin.

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