New operator for West Coast Mainline

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The running of the West Coast Mainline will be taken over by a joint venture between First Group and Trenitalia UK, the Department for Transport has announced today.

The new consortium will take over the running of the rail route that connects Lancashire to London and Scotland in December – replacing Virgin Trains, which has operated the line since 1997.

First Trenitalia says it will provide passengers with new trains, more seats, simplified fares and more frequent services.

And it has revealed that it is investing £117m in a major refurbishment of the current Pendolino fleet of trains, providing more comfortable seats and additional luggage space.

The Department for Transport says the announcement reflects “a significant move away from the previous flawed franchising system”.

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.”

This award is positive news for passengers and represents a decisive shift towards a new model for rail.

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.

First Trenitalia will also oversee the introduction of new environmentally-friendly trains, entirely replacing the diesel-only fleet and reducing CO2 emissions by 61 per cent.

It will also oversee the introduction of  more flexible and convenient smart ticketing options, free wifi and high quality mobile connectivity on board services and an improved delay repay compensation for all passengers.

The consortium will also design and develop High Speed 2 (HS2) as a “Shadow Operator” and run HS2 from March 2026 until 2031 along with the reshaped West Coast rail services.

Rail union the RMT has attacked the decision. Its general secretary Mick Cash said: "The announcement this morning that First Trenitalia are being shunted on to the West Coast Mainline to replace Virgin/Stagecoach in the midst of the rail staff pension row is just anothe‎r political fix by a government whose privatised franchise model is collapsing around their ears.

"Instead of following the popular public sector route the Tories are taking yet another gamble on the crucial West Coast lines with one of the dwindling number of private operator consortia left in the game ‎in a move that RMT believes is doomed to failure and sure to result in yet more rail chaos."

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