First Group has been selected to run the West Coast franchise
First West Coast Ltd has been chosen by the Government as the new operator for the InterCity West Coast franchise, ousting incumbent Virgin. The new franchise will begin operation on Sunday 9 December 2012 and will operate for a core term of 13 years and 4 months, with an option to be extended to operate for up to 15 years. The franchise deal is worth £5.5billion (net present value) over the lifetime of the contract.
As part of the deal First West Coast will introduce 11 new six-car electric trains which will enable more seats to be provided across the franchise, including greater capacity on the Birmingham to Scotland route.
Rail Minister Theresa Villiers said benefits that the new franchise will offer passengers include:
- More seats: the new 11×6-car electric trains will deliver circa 12,000 extra seats a day from December 2016, with the cascade of existing rolling stock to bolster capacity on West Coast routes. This is in addition to the 106 extra Pendolino carriages which are currently being introduced into operation on to the franchise, which will deliver over 28,000 extra daily seats.
- More services: initially First West Coast will operate the timetable it will inherit from the current franchise, but is seeking to introduce a number of new services including a London Euston to Blackpool service from 2013 and from 2016 services from London to Telford Central, Shrewsbury and Bolton.
- Improved services: journey time improvements between London and Glasgow are planned, as well as additional services from London to Preston.
- Fares: First West Coast is changing its Standard Anytime fares and reducing them by an average of 15% over the first two years of the franchise.
- Improved stations: First West Coast is taking over responsibility for maintenance at 17 of the stations on the route and will spend at least £22million on a station investment programme.
- Smart ticketing technology: First West Coast will introduce ITSO-based smart ticketing. This will offer speed and convenience as well as new ticket types more tailored to individual needs.
First was first in a field of four bidding for the West Coast franchise; the other companies in contention were Dutch Railways’ subsidiary Abellio InterCity West Coast Ltd, Keolis / SNCF West Coast Ltd (a combination of Keolis SA and French state rail operator SNCF), and Virgin Trains Ltd .