Posted 19th June 2014 | 7 Comments

Virgin wins direct award deal on West Coast

VIRGIN has secured a new contract to operate intercity services on the West Coast Main Line.

The company said there had been 'tough negotations' before a deal was struck covering two years and nine months, which also commits the company to investing £35 million.

Some of the improvements agreed by Virgin Trains, 49 per cent of which is owned by Stagecoach, include the conversion of 21 first class vehicles to standard class, free wifi at stations, £20 million for station upgrades, £2.5 million to improve the interiors of Pendolinos and £2.75 million on improving catering facilities.

Virgin will also now start work to introduce new direct services between Shrewsbury, Blackpool and London from December.

There will be new apprenticeships and other job opportunities as well as infrastructure improvements.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “This deal will provide thousands more seats and better journeys for the tens of thousands of passengers who use these services every day. The West Coast provides a vital artery between London and Scotland and it is crucial we do everything we can to improve services on this much-used route.

“This is further proof of our commitment to get the best deal for passengers and taxpayers with Virgin set to pay more than £430 million to run the franchise. It’s all part of our long-term economic plan to drive forward our economy and provide better services now and great services with HS2.”

Virgin Trains executive co-chairman Patrick McCall said: “We’re delighted to have reached a deal after some tough negotiations with the DfT. It puts the problems of 2012 firmly behind us, and shows the clear benefits of a well-run franchise system.

“This deal is great news for passengers and taxpayers, with significant benefits for our customers as well as a big increase in the money we pay to government. We know wifi is high on our customers’ priorities and we’re delighted that we’re going to be able to offer them free and super-fast wifi. Together with thousands of extra seats and plans for new services, this deal will mean big improvements for millions of Virgin Trains passengers.”

Virgin has agreed to employ at least 30 apprentices, 18 trainees, four Network Rail Track and Train graduate placements, 12 Virgin Red Track scheme participants and 12 ex-offenders through the St Giles Trust.

The contract is the sixth direct award made by the Department, and it will be followed by a new long-term franchise starting in April 2017.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Andrew Blurton, stafford

    Congratulations to virgin trains on securing this contract with Stagecoach & also expanding rail services in Shropshire & Lancashire & more directly to Shrewsbury & Blackpool from London which will also be more attractive & more wisely for the travelling public to be using more frequently in the near future with other operators along the line competing with them.
    If it is the main line between Rugby & Warrington Bank Quay via Coventry & Birmingham New Street & Wolverhampton & Shrewsbury & Wrexham & Chester & Preston & Blackpool would re-opening the closed branch lines between Telford & Stafford & Telford & Stoke on Trent also bring more benefits to Wolverhampton & Chester via Halton Junction & Liverpool if re-built better with all major freight operators & all main line operators with cross country trains & local operators with London Midland & Arriva Trains Wales.

  • Lewis Downie, Dalton

    Yip, I know it's an interim extension but my point is Virgin jump up and down and are rewarded with extension after extension.

    They lost, but seem to be the only winners!

    Directly operated railways as per East Coast would have been the correct decision until the government fathomed out how to run a competition.

    God help us if Virgin lose that contest too!

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Lewis Downie, this is not the same as the (botched) franchise award in 2012. This is simply an interim agreement with an existing operator to continue running services until the full franchise process can be run under the revised timetable.

    The Virgin vs First battle will be resumed in 2016-7, when the Franchise proper delayed from 2012 will be decided. May the best bid win.

  • Lewis Downie, Dalton

    Ah well good to see the offenders catered for.

    Didn't first win the franchise fair and square? They were all playing by the same rules after all!

    Obviously O'Toole doesn't carry the same weight as Branson.

  • Lutz, London

    It is beyond belief that the franchise has had to be extended due to bureaucratic problems within the DfT; The sooner the railways are fully privatized the better for all concerned.

    The £2.5M averages out at about £44K per unit, and very roughly about £4K per coach; excluding labor, what will that provide?

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    Yet another short term fix but I suppose nothing must stand in the way of returning ECML to private hands ahead of coming election.

    The irony is last time Virgin suggested a short term extension it also came with extension of remaining 9 carriage Pendolinos to 11 Carriages but this was turned down and we had the WCML franchise fiasco .

    As for claims of extra seats well if trains are the same then this is simply a case of moving the present seats in 1st class and bunging a few more in .

    While the Shrewsbury extension is about extending an existing service from London through to Shrewsbury no doubt.

    So will long term franchise be agreed this side of 2015 election ?

  • Jim Campbell, Birmingham

    As a user of the West Coast route this is good news. Virgin provide a great service and for those able to be flexible, or who qualify for a railcard, they offer competitive fares. Particularly good news for Blackpool and Shrewsbury. I guess the staff will be pleased to.