First Trenitalia has been announced as the successful bidder to operate the West Coast Partnership, set to provide passengers with new trains, more seats, simplified fares and more frequent services on the West Coast Main Line.
For north Wales, this will mean Llandudno will be served by direct trains to and from London in the summer months from May 2021 and a new fleet of bi-mode trains will serve the whole line, running from Holyhead through to Wrexham General, replacing Super Voyagers.
Both the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Keith Williams, chair of the Rail Review, have heralded the Partnership as vital to deliver the swift introduction of significant benefits for passengers. The new Partnership is also designed to fit with the direction of the Review and to facilitate the implementation of Williams’ recommendations in due course.
It also reflects a significant move away from the previous flawed franchising system to tackle issues already highlighted by the Williams Review, with the use of a Forecast Revenue Mechanism (FRM) mechanism to avoid a repeat of the issues that affected the previous East Coast Main Line. This mechanism will be supported by a new Annual Review process, to ensure partnership working is effective, collaborative and continually improving.
The Transport Secretary has also confirmed that the Government intends to produce a White Paper in due course setting out the recommendations of Williams, to bring forward his vision for a truly passenger focused industry centred on clear, accountable leadership.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:
“This award is positive news for passengers, with more services, more direct connections and ambitious plans for a cleaner, greener railway, and also represents a decisive shift towards a new model for rail.
“It is a Partnership supported by Keith Williams, built with the flexibility to respond to his recommendations and deliver fundamental reform to a flawed system. Meeting Keith last week confirmed our shared determination to deliver a future that puts passengers at the heart of the railways, and get our trains to run on time.
“That is why I have asked Keith to produce his recommendations for a White Paper, with fearless proposals that will deliver a railway system fit for the 21st century.”
Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said:
“This partnership is great news for people in north Wales – delivering better cross-border connectivity on new, more comfortable trains.
“Together with new services on the Halton Curve line between Wrexham and Liverpool, the UK Government is demonstrating its serious commitment to improving transport infrastructure in this part of Wales.”
Keith Williams, Chair of the Rail Review, said:
“The railway needs reform that prioritises the customers and communities it serves, with an absolute focus on delivering benefits for passengers. I have also been clear that my review must not stop or delay investment and innovation.
“This West Coast Partnership delivers for passengers. It is a step forward that is firmly in line with the review, introducing benefits for passengers today and capable of incorporating the reforms needed for the future.”Today’s award confirms that, from December 2022, passengers will benefit from 263 extra train services every week, with Motherwell set to become a major calling point for most West Coast Partnership services. Destinations including Llandudno and Gobowen will now be served by direct trains to and from London, and Walsall will receive its first direct intercity services. Subject to approval from the Office of Rail and Road, two trains per hour will run between Liverpool and London.
First Trenitalia will also oversee the introduction of new environmentally-friendly trains, entirely replacing the diesel-only fleet and reducing CO2 emissions by 61%. It will also invest £117 million in a major refurbishment of the current Pendolino fleet, providing more comfortable seats and additional luggage space.
The new operator will also strive for ambitious green targets by investing in stations and depots to reduce the environmental impact of the Partnership. This includes introducing new solar panels and energy efficient air conditioning, alongside a commitment to achieving an 80% reduction in non-recyclable waste from products sold or supplied on-board trains.
First Trenitalia will also oversee the introduction of:
- More flexible and convenient smart ticketing options;
- Free Wi-Fi and high quality mobile connectivity on board services;
- Improved delay repay compensation for all passengers;
- £32m of investment into developing and delivering infrastructure capacity and capability improvements;
- 10 new secure cycle storage facilities; improved bus facilities; 900 new car parking spaces, and 100 new Electric Vehicle charging points;
- New ticket machines at stations, removal of the administration fee and enabling on-the-day changes to both Advance tickets and seat reservations; and new initiatives to increase diversity, inclusion and skills retention in the rail industry.
A route map demonstrating benefits and investment to be delivered through the West Coast Partnership can be found on gov.uk.
First Trenitalia will also act at the Shadow Operator responsible for HS2. The government will shortly launch a review into HS2 and the Partnership has been designed in order to ensure that it can implement the review’s outcomes.