DfT awards interim West Coast contract to Virgin

RAIL passengers using the West Coast Main Line will experience better services including 28,000 more seats a day under an agreement announced today for Virgin Trains to continue operating rail services on the route.

The new franchise agreement, announced by the Department for Transport, will run for up to 23 months after which the WCML will be let under a long-term franchise.

The new arrangements have been introduced after the fiasco over the award of the franchise contract earlier in the autumn.

Initially the DfT awarded the contract to FirstGroup only to later cancel the decision after objections and legal action from Virgin Rail that the winning submission was unsustainable.

The Government ordered two reviews into the farce, which resulted in the suspension of three high ranking DfT officials.

The DfT said today’s decision coincided with the early completion of a Government-backed deal to roll out 106 new Pendolino carriages, providing passengers with four new 11-carriage trains and lengthening 31 existing trains from nine carriages to 11. A new hourly service between London and Glasgow will also be introduced.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “We are determined to ensure not only that passengers continue to experience the same levels of service they have in the past, but that services improve. There will be a new hourly service linking Glasgow and London and we will also work with Virgin Trains to explore other service improvements.

“I am also extremely pleased that passengers will benefit from up to 28,000 more seats daily thanks to the delivery of 106 new Pendolino carriages onto the West Coast Main Line which has happened on budget and ahead of schedule.”

Passengers travelling on Virgin Trains will also find it easier to claim compensation if their train is severely delayed after plans by Virgin Trains to introduce an improved Passenger’s Charter incorporating a Delay Repay scheme from April 2013 was agreed.

The 23-month franchise will run from December 9, 2012 until November 9, 2014 after which the WCML will be let under a long-term franchise. The DfT will be able to shorten this period by up to six months if a subsequent franchise can be let on a shorter timescale.

The deal gives the DfT breathing space to implement any recommendations which may arise from the ongoing review into franchising arrangements.

The interim franchise will operate as a management contract with both revenue and cost risk being borne by the DfT. In return Virgin Rail Group – the joint venture between Virgin and Stagecoach – will receive a margin of 1% on revenue for operating services.

The franchise also makes a provision for the DfT and VRG to agree revised commercial terms that would see VRG take greater revenue and cost risk in the period to November 9, 2014.