Full steam ahead for West Coast

Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

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Published: 13th February 2017

This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group


There has been a flurry of international interest in the West Coast Partnership after a November 2018 date was set to announce the winner of the new InterCity West Coast and HS2 franchise.

Details of the franchise were laid out by the Department for Transport in December last year, outlining the scope of the job to prospective bidders interested in taking on the InterCity West Coast and HS2 services.

Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, said: “We need world-class expertise to deliver this new chapter in modernising the railways. We are calling for bidder s with a blend of skills including operating conventional rail services, high speed rail services, technical innovation and great customer service.”

A brand new franchise, the West Coast Partnership, is set to go into service in April 2019 with the winning bidder responsible for services of both the West Coast Main Line from 2019 and the running of HS2 services from 2026.

Construction of the first phase of HS2 is subject to Parliamentary approval, with Royal Assent expected early in 2017, allowing the £55.7bn project to get underway before the bid winners are announced in late 2018.

HS2 chairman, Sir David Higgins, said the franchise will be essential for developing “an integrated operating environment for future HS2 services – one that works with the future network.”

Phase 1 of the high speed line includes routes between London and West Midlands and is due to open in 2026 with ambitions for the route to ‘set a new international standard’ in rail travel.

In the meantime, the emphasis will be on providing a business-as-usual service to West Coast Mainline rail passengers, with the railway’s current operators, Virgin, stressing the ‘huge advantages’ for continuity of service during HS2’s initial enabling works under the new franchisees.

Soon after the government announcement, a joint bid for for the East Midlands franchise and the West Coast Partnership was made by FS Italiane subsidiary, Trenitalia UK, and Aberdeen-based transport , First .

Trenitalia UK announced in January that it was joining forces with First just weeks after entering the UK rail market with a similar joint acquisition of the Essex Thameside franchise from National Express.

As with the first acquisition, the West Coast/HS2 joint venture will be a 70:30 partnership with Trenitalia UK holding the lesser share. With First as majority shareholders, the partnership plans to work alongside the Department for Transport to develop an integrated timetable, making best use of capacity on the West Coast Mainline following the handover of intercity services to HS2.

First managing director, Steve Montgomery, has shown optimism in the cross-channel partnership’s ability to take the franchise forward to world class status.

He said: “We have a strong track record in delivering continued modernisation and investment, alongside industry partners, through our rail operating companies Great Western Railway, TransPennine Express and Rail Operator of the Year, Hull Trains.

“Similarly, Trenitalia have transformed the customer experience on Italy’s railways through their high speed Frecciarossa routes.

“They will be a world-class bidding partner as we develop proposals to deliver excellent services for West Coast passengers and work closely with HS2 Ltd to deliver the best solutions for the new HS2 service whilst reducing crowding on the existing network and generate economic growth up and down the country.”

Both partners have extensive expertise of running commuter, regional and long distance services, such as those that make up the East Midlands franchise.

Trenitalia CEO, Barbara Morgante, added that: “the experience, competence, innovation and skills of our two companies, developed in international markets, represents a perfect mix to vie for these challenging bids. Trenitalia is ready to bring all its competencies to the partnership, both from a technical and commercial side, developed in the highly competitive Italian market.”

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