First Trenitalia to take over West Coast Main Line rail services
14 August 2019, 07:26 | Updated: 14 August 2019, 10:43
First Trenitalia has won the contract to run rail services on the West Coast Main Line.
Aberdeen-based firm First Group and Trenitalia UK, a subsidiary that is ultimately owned by the Italian government, will run the service as a 70-30 joint venture.
The Department of Transport said First Trenitalia would begin running services from 8 December 2019.
The West Coast Main Line runs from London to Glasgow through Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.
The consortium will also design and develop High Speed 2 (HS2) as a "shadow operator" and run HS2 from March 2026 until 2031 along with the reshaped West Coast rail services.
Virgin Trains, the current operator of the rail line, was barred from bidding to keep the route over a pensions contributions dispute.
First Trenitalia said it would run 56 refurbished Pendolino trains and replace its diesel-powered Voyager fleet with something more environmentally friendly.
The company said it would also begin services to new destinations including Liverpool South Parkway, Walsall and Gobowen (for Oswestry), and offer more stops at stations including Rugby, Llandudno Junction and Motherwell.
Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said the bidding process for the contract had the support of Keith Williams, chair of the Rail Review, who has been looking into reforms needed for the franchising model.
He said: "It is a partnership supported by Keith Williams, built with the flexibility to respond to his recommendations. Meeting Keith last week confirmed our shared determination to deliver a future that puts passengers - and punctual trains - at the heart of the railways.
"That is why I have asked Keith to produce a white paper in the autumn, with fearless recommendations that will deliver a railway system fit for the 21st century."
Mr Williams added: "This West Coast Partnership delivers for passengers. It is a step forward that is firmly in line with the review, introducing benefits for passengers today and capable of incorporating the reforms needed for the future."
The franchise will be the first major contract for First Group after a US-hedge fund lost a battle to takeover its boardroom.
First Group chief executive Matthew Gregory said: "We are pleased to have won the West Coast Partnership contract to operate existing InterCity services on the West Coast Mainline and help deliver high speed rail.
"The differences between this contract and more traditional rail franchises were reflected in the terms set out by the DfT, which has resulted in a more appropriate balance of risks and rewards for us as operators.
"Following this award we will not therefore be seeking new franchising opportunities for the foreseeable future over and above our current negotiations with the DfT to extend GWR."
(c) Sky News 2019: First Trenitalia to take over West Coast Main Line rail services