Posted 30th November 2010 | 11 Comments

Next West Coast franchise to be cut short by HS2

Philip Hammond at the NEC (Image: Jas Sansi)

Philip Hammond speaking to business leaders at the NEC (Image: Jas Sansi)

THE next Intercity West Coast passenger franchise, due to start in April 2012, will only last for about 13 years until the new north-south high speed line begins operation, the transport secretary has revealed.

At a ‘Business Debate’ in Birmingham on plans for the new line, High Speed Two, Philip Hammond was asked about future capacity problems on the West Coast Main Line.  Martin Dyer, chairman of the West Midlands Business Transport Group, pointed out that all forecasts suggest the WCML will run out of capacity by 2020, but current plans were that the first stage of HS2 to relieve the WCML would not open until 2025.

The Transport Secretary admitted that the period between 2020 and 2025 was “going to be a challenge.”

But he said that the Invitation To Tender to bidders for the next West Coast franchise — the present one is currently operated by Virgin — “will invite potential operators to address how to deal with capacity pressures at the tail end.

“The franchise will expire when HS2 opens,” Mr Hammond added.

He also revealed that property owners affected by HS2 could receive enhanced compensation, and that the plans include a spur to Heathrow airport and a tunnel eastwards from Old Oak Common to connect with HS1.

  The Government has recently undertaken a consultation exercise on future franchise options, including extending the normal period to around 20 years.     

Virgin earlier proposed the present West Coast franchise could be extended to 2014, in which case it would take responsibility for adding two additional standard class carriages to every Pendolinio train, but this was rejected by Transport Ministers. 

Present government plans will see only 32 of the 52-strong fleet lengthened, as well as the delivery of four completely new 11-car trains, which will only be brought into use after the new franchise is let in 2012.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Paul, Carlisle, Cumbria

    Mr Taylor from Bury must be a very small person who likes saunas. Thats the only way anybody could enjoy travelling on a Pendolino. The most cramped train on the network. Impossible to get any work done even at a table seat when the train is full and so overheated that on every journey I end up feeling nauseus and bathed in sweat

  • K Aizlewood, Coventry, UK

    Mr Hammond talks about how competition will bring down the costs of using train services post-HS2; yet clearly the intention is to tender for a single franchise, creating a monopoly on the WCML/HS2 service. I understand why ie if there was price competition, HS2 would never even come close to meeting its income targets and require sustained taxpayer subsidy. And why shouldn't passengers have to pay premium fares, HS2 will be a premium service. The current peak standard class return is £150 so HS2 ought to be significantly higher. But more mis-direction from the Minister.
    ps - I thought the creation of new monopolies in privatised industries was subject to Competition Policy? I guess not if it is government initiated.

  • Geoff Steel, Northampton

    On 19th December 2010 full commercial services started on the Madrid to Valencia Very High Speed route operating at 350kph. I understand that the opening of this route brings the total of operational high speed lines within Spain to 2000km and by 2012 the route to Alicante will be open along with a through service linking Barcelona with the TGV routes. Also by then a new cross city high speed tunnel will be nearing completion under Madrid linking the High Speed lines both sides of the capital. By 2020 there will be high speed links to other major cities including a cross border line to Lisbon.

    That is what I call real commitment to a long term strategy investing in their railways. All this has been delivered by two state owned companies; ADIF who run the infrastructure and RENFE who operate the trains.

    On 20th December 2010 the British Government announces the proposed route of HS2 from London to Birmingham with a possible link to HS1 and a planned opening date sometime in 2025. And of course we will have to go through the costly and time consuming process of finding an operator.

    Somewhere along the line it looks like we have lost our way because of the fragmentation of our industry has prevented a commitment to real sustained investment based and no long term strategy which most of our European partners have seem to have grasped.

    It is very frustrating seeing this happen but the fact is that we are falling light years behind virtually every major economy in the world who are investing full speed ahead with high speed rail

  • Mr A Taylor, Bury, England

    I just hope Virgin trains keep the franchise. How stupid of the government not to allow the current franchise until 2014 when Virgin would guarantee 2 more carriages on the Pendolinos.Virgin Trains are more than reliable,are extremely frequent,and in my opinion one of the best companies. Their main fault is not maintaining quiet zones quiet.None of the staff seem to care.

  • H Harvey, Birmingham

    It is correct that those whose homes and business are adversely affected by HS2 should be compensated. Those on the HS2 route are to receive better compensation than is usual for their plight so they have less to complain about than those who were driven from their homes withthe motorway and roads expansion of the lastb 30 or so years and probanly continuing today

    Would this special compensation have been extended to the less wealthy inhabitants of areas destroyed by similar projects.

    I am a very strong supporter of HS2 there is ONE! major problem

  • Joel Kosminsky, London, Britain

    Does this recognise that rail franchising is flawed, expensive and destructive? Piecemeal works mean network inconsistency; with no cohesive plans, skills migrate then evaporate. Even this government sees it doesn't work but can't admit it and doesn't know what to do. The merry-go-round has to stop one day.

  • Peter Hooper, Windsor., UK

    THE next Intercity West Coast passenger franchise is due to start in 16 months time, and will then last for 13 years.
    I presume that Virgin are already preparing their submission for the 2012 franchise and are thinking long term about running trains on the 2025 HST line.

    So I cannot understand why the government should be panicked into extending Virgin's existing franchise.
    Surely it is in passengers interest for the government to consider all submissions to the new franchise arrangements ?

  • Tom, London, UK

    The "loss of countryside" makes EH weep. Hmmmm. Not that his or her attitude has anything to do with living in Warwickshire. My family lives in rural Oxfordshire, and I welcome the building of HS2 through the county. It will transform our *country* for the better along several dimensions, and shows that at last we are thinking strategically and for the long-term. Railways do alter the countryside, but they enhance it rather than destroying it, showing human transformation of the natural world at its best. That's why, in part, so many countries are taking this route. As to EH's bogus class analysis, there are very few peasants in places like Warwickshire, in fact the county is crawling with rich London types. Let's hope they don't scupper this immensely valuable and forward-thinking project....

  • Mike Breslin, Liverpool, UK

    In my opinion, the Government seems to have a developed a great antipathy towards the management of Virgin and are desparate to see an alternative franchisee appointed. Hence, the Government's refusal to allow them use of the new Pendolinos, three of which are going to be sitting in a siding at Edge Hill for around twelve months (the first one being "commissioned" on the east coast main line), whilst passengers are suffering severe overcrowding on the evening services out of Euston.

  • E.H., Southam, warks

    no compensation for the years of misery that thousands will endure if hs2 is constructed.It be like a bomb sight the lengh of britain,then we will be rudely awakened at 5am and unable to sleep until midnight.The thought of the loss of countryside makes me weep.No matter that it is said it is not yet a done deal the govenment is determined to wipe the peasants aside and have there way just like the lords of the manor.

  • Bill Dickson, Millom, UK

    One has to wonder at the sanity of the "powers that be" when expensive trains are stored at further expense instead of being used to generate revenue because of contractual issues which, with a "can-do" attitude, could be overcome. The intransigence of all parties is unbelievable. Our current government promotes co-operation but this situation appears to show that someone is not up to the job. If the Department for Transport cannot enhance the capacity on the WCML with the resources readily at hand, can they be regarded as being competent in other respects? Virgin will no doubt want the franchise when it comes up for renewal but their behaviour suggests that they will depend upon pure number crunching to win it. Maybe a clause could be inserted into the tender documents adding a weighting factor which would be applied to the bid of the incumbent franchisee based upon client (DfT) satisfaction!