Virgin Rail Group handed one year extension to West Coast franchise

The Virgin Rail Group has been allowed to continue its West Coast franchise for a further year, it was announced today (Friday, December 21).

Stagecoach Group, which holds a 49% stake in the Virgin franchise, announced that the Department for Transport has called an extension of up to one year to the West Coast rail franchise operated by the company’s joint venture, Virgin Rail Group.

The current West Coast franchise was due to end in March 2019, and can now continue for a period up to March 2020.

The franchise serves the main rail link from Liverpool and Manchester to London Euston and is a vital route for business users and leisure and tourist passengers alike.

In April last year Virgin Trains signalled its determination to retain the franchise when it announced a beefed up consortium ahead of the bidding process.

French high speed operator SNCF was added to the existing Stagecoach and Virgin partnership to bid for the franchise, which was expected to start in April 2019, and cover up to the first five years of the operation of HS2.

The new franchise – the West Coast Partnership – will be responsible for services on both the West Coast Main Line from 2019 and designing and running the initial high speed services from 2026.

Stagecoach has a 50% share in the bid vehicle, West Coast Partnership Limited, with a 30% share held by SNCF and 20% owned by Virgin. If the bid is selected, it is expected the services would operate under the Virgin brand.

Virgin has operated the trains on the London-Scotland routes, which serves Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh, since privatisation in 1997.