Posted 10th May 2016 | 4 Comments

West Coast franchise consultation launched

THE Department for Transport has launched a consultation into the details of the next Intercity West Coast franchise, which is due to start in April 2018.

The present contract, run by a joint venture of Virgin Trains and Stagecoach Group, began in June 2014 after a short management contract also run by the same joint venture. This had been necessary after the previous competition collapsed in October 2012 because the DfT's calculations were flawed, which meant that an award to FirstGroup had to be withdrawn.

The next franchise will run in parallel with the construction of the first phase of HS2 between London and Birmingham, which ministers hope can begin next year.

The DfT has set out its aims for West Coast, which include increases in passenger numbers, a close working relationship with the holder of the next West Midlands franchise, continued investment in the workforce and 'a new benchmark in passenger satisfaction'.

Respondents to the consultation now have the opportunity to give their views about many details of the next contract and how its services could be improved. The matters covered include better information, a more accessible railway and what the DfT describes as 'innovative ways' to improve ticketing methods.

The DfT said over 34 million journeys were made on the franchise's services between April 2014 and March 2015, with almost 7 billion passenger kilometres travelled. The present franchise employs approximately 3,000 staff and runs around 300 services each day. The number of passengers has more than tripled over the past couple of decades. When the first Intercity West Coast franchise started in March 1997 there were 13.2 million passengers a year travelling on West Coast routes.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “The ICWC line covers a vitally important part of our rail network, linking major cities in England, Scotland, and Wales. I want to see improvements to customer satisfaction, investment and better journeys for passengers during the next franchise.”

After the consultation has ended on 2 August, the competition will run through the rest of 2016 and into 2017, with the winner set to be announced in November next year.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Christopher Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    It will be interesting what this consultation throws up when compared to the last consultation that informed the bidding process for the aborted franchise award in 2012. As construction and hopefully operation of HS2 will overlap with the next franchise this will clearly affect the financial projections of the classic WCML offer.

    Since 2012 the ICWC service plan has been one of consolidation with the exception of the service extensions to Shewsbury and Blackpool. With the completion of enhancement work at Stafford & Norton Bridge additional WCML paths should be available. Perhaps with this additional capacity it is time to address the connectivity opportunities offered by Tamworth & Nuneaton stops that are currently largely overlooked by the VT service specification. As the LM Trent Valley service has illustrated there has been considerable latent demand by passed by the desire for fast non services to NW destinations. Developing Tamworth & Nuneaton as connectional hubs has the potential to speed up North West to East Mids/East Anglia trips while reducing pressure on Birmingham New St.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    " The DfT has set out its aims for West Coast ........" to quote the above.

    Why? Why is a supposedly privatised operation being designed by Civil Servants ? I had thought the main justification for the privatised railway was to give TOC's the freedom to compete ( except, of course where there are natural monopolies with captive markets ) and develop, liberating enterprise, innovation , adaptation and investment.

    But ever since the inception of the Strategic Rail Authority, Whitehall has progressively extended its control over decision-making with the TOC's now just responsible for day-to-day running.
    [It is an enduring myth that we have a privatised passenger railway. TOCs are short term government contractors bound by detailed franchise specifications who report at frequent intervals to the DfT. Almost nothing which is happening at the moment -- electrification, Thameslink Programme, Northern Hub, Crossrail -- is much to do with private sector decisions. (One possible (and partial) exception is the extension of Chiltern services to Oxford. Even that would not have happened without DfT/ORR/Network Rail agreement.) Only freight and ROSCos are in the 'real' private sector, plus a handful of open access passenger operators and peripheral businesses such as station traders and infrastructure contractors. There is a private sector supply chain, but then that has existed since before the Rainhill Trials.--Editor.]

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    I hope the new operator won't hamper all the hard work done by Richard Branson's Virgin Trains. Change can see customer satisfaction rates going backwards because a new franchise almost always goes about things differently.

  • Philip, Wolverhampton

    I hope that the new franchisee will not have to be too close to the West Midlands franchise. I would prefer them to be pitted against each other so that the competition continues to provide low fares. I do not look forward to any collusion on ticket prices.