Virgin Trains loses West Coast rail franchise to First Trenitalia

Richard Branson 'devastated' as the Government hands Virgin Trains' West Coast rail line contract to First Trenitalia after 22 years

Virgin Trains will lose its long-standing West Coast franchise next December.

It will be replaced by First Trenitalia, which has been awarded the franchise for this voluminous network until 2031.

First Trenitalia is comprised of First Group (which has 70 per cent of the franchise) and Trenitalia (Italy’s state railway, which holds 30 per cent).

First Group won the WCML franchise back in 2012 but had to surrender it to Virgin Trains later following a legal challenge.

This time the new franchise is made more significant because it will also include HS2 (assuming it opens on schedule) from 2026.

Quoted in Railway Gazette, chief executive of Italy’s FS Group Gianfranco Battisti said, “We have more than 20 years of expertise in the high speed sector in Italy which has significantly improved connectivity for Italians.

“Trenitalia is operating in the only competitive and open market for high speed services in the world.”

Branson devastated

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson was “devastated” today after it was announced West Coast mainline rail services between London and Glasgow, and the first stage of HS2, will be taken on by First Trenitalia from December.

The new contract ends 22 years of West Coast control by Virgin and the new operator is promising a complete refurbishment of 56 Pendolino trains, new seats, free wi-fi, upgraded catering and more frequent services.

The line is Britain’s most profitable rail franchise. First Group and Trenitalia UK, a subsidiary ultimately owned by the Italian government, will run the service as a 70-30 joint venture.

In a statement, a Virgin spokesperson said the company would “work with First Trenitalia to ensure a seamless handover for customers, who should still book and travel as normal.”

According to Railway Gazette, First Group Trenitalia is paying a premium of £1.6 billion during the first phase of the franchise, which lasts up until 2026. The second phase will run until 2031 and will cover HS2.

So what benefits are passengers likely to get? The main ones are:

  • More convenient and flexible smart ticketing options
  • Free wi-fi and high quality mobile connectivity on board
  • Half-hourly London-Liverpool frequency
  • Improved delay repay arrangements
  • More trains. Some stations will gain direct links to London
  • Existing Pendolino fleet to be refurbished at a cost of £117 million
  • New fleet (to replace the existing diesel Voyagers) arriving in 2022 to include 13 bi-mode and 10 electric trainsets

It is reported, Trenitalia wants to compete with SNCF between Paris and Milan.

Today it was announced

Rail fares to rise by 2.8% in January

The latest increase will add more than £100 to many annual season tickets

Rail fares will rise by 2.8% in January, it has been confirmed, prompting campaigners to demand a fairer formula for increases.

The latest rise, set by the July retail price index figure published by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday morning, will add more than £100 to many annual season tickets, and comes amid warnings that passengers were being priced off the railway.

Labour said the average commuter would now be paying more than £3,000 for their season ticket, 40% more than in 2010.

The overall cost of train travel has gone up by 46% since 2009, while wages have only grown by 23%, according to TUC analysis of ONS figures.

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