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HS2 franchise in West Coast Mainline
Published: 14th November 2016
This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group
The government has announced plans to roll the West Coast Mainline together with new High Speed 2 rail services to create a brand new franchise to deliver both, called the West Coast Partnership.
Under the current franchise, officially called InterCity West Coast, Virgin Trains operate routes between London Euston via the West Midlands to destinations in North Wales, north-west England including Manchester and Liverpool, and onwards via Preston to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
From 2019 this will become the West Coast Partnership, with the first HS2 high-speed services due to commence on the franchise in 2026 and last for up to five years on the newly opened infrastructure.
During this time, the government hopes to attract bids from world-class rail operators to deliver enhanced services for passengers on the West Coast route, in order to develop the line and achieve the aims of HS2.
Transport minister Andrew Jones said: “We are embarking on a new chapter in our modernisation of the railways and we need world-class expertise to deliver it. HS2 will be the backbone of Britain’s railways, creating more seats for passengers on the West Coast and increasing capacity on the rest of the network.
“By combining the franchise we are ensuring we get the right people on board at an early stage to design and manage the running of both services in the transition stage. The new franchise will attract highly experienced companies, who have the right experience, which ultimately means a better deal for passengers – both now and in the future.”
The introduction of HS2 services will see high-speed trains operate between London and Birmingham before transferring to the current West Coast Mainline route for onward destinations, and it is hoped that this will boost economic prosperity in adjacent regions while reducing passenger crowding.
Sir David Higgins, chairman of HS2 Ltd, said: “This is a real opportunity to ensure HS2 services complement and enhance existing ones. I have always been clear HS2 will not be a standalone railway but fully integrated with the wider network. It will provide a new backbone for our railways, modernising services to better serve towns and cities up and down the country.”
He added that the newly created franchise will establish a partnership between the government and “a strong private-sector partner” with the experience required to operate high-speed rail operations to a high standard, as well as maximising levels of customer service delivered on the existing standard-speed line.
This should ensure punctuality and reliability are higher for new and existing services alike, and could also allow services to more towns in the area or better connections, thanks to the higher capacity of the high-speed line.
For example, during rush-hour services HS2 should allow the total number of seats to almost triple, from the current 11,000 to somewhere around 30,000, with an increase in standing capacity if it is still needed – and as the high-speed infrastructure will support most intercity traffic, the existing lines should be able to operate more commuter services with stops at smaller towns along the way.
The route takes in destinations in Scotland and North Wales, and both of the devolved governments of those countries will also be involved in ensuring passengers get the best level of service from the private operator once appointed.
A formal Expression of Interest, or EoI, will be published before the end of 2016, with the Invitation To Tender or ITT process commencing in October-November 2017. Rail services under the newly appointed operator should begin 18 months later, on April 1st 2019.
With the current franchise scheduled to end in 2018, a short-term contract will also be offered for the interim period until the West Coast Partnership begins, and it is as yet unclear whether this will mean an extension of Virgin Trains’ contract, or potentially an earlier start under a new operator.