New West Coast Partnership to run HS2 high-speed rail services

HS2 high-speed rail services will be run by the same operator as the West Coast Main Line, the Government has announced.Image of the Birmingham and Fazeley viaduct, part of the proposed route for the HS2 high speed rail scheme (HS2/PA).HS2 high-speed rail services will be run by the same operator as the West Coast Main Line, the Government has announced.

 

The new franchise - the West Coast Partnership - will cover services on the west coast route from 2019 and running the initial high-speed trains between London and the West Midlands from 2026.The contract will run for the first three to five years of HS2's operation.Transport Minister Andrew Jones said: "We are embarking on a new chapter in our modernisation of the railways and we need world-class expertise to deliver it.

 

"HS2 will be the backbone of Britain's railways, creating more seats for passengers on the West Coast and increasing capacity on the rest of the network."By combining the franchise we are ensuring we get the right people on board at an early stage to design and manage the running of both services in the transition stage.

 

"The new franchise will attract highly experienced companies, who have the right experience, which ultimately means a better deal for passengers - both now and in the future."The West Coast Main Line is currently operated by Virgin Trains - a joint venture between Stagecoach and Virgin.

 

It is hoped that HS2 will reduce overcrowding on the existing network and generate economic growth across the country.Phase 1, due to open in December 2026, will see trains travel at high speed between London and Birmingham before running on from Birmingham on the existing west coast line.Sir David Higgins, chairman of HS2 Ltd, the company responsible for building the £55.7 billion railway, said the franchise announcement means the high-speed trains can "complement and enhance" existing ones.

 

He added: "I have always been clear HS2 will not be a standalone railway but fully integrated with the wider network. It will provide a new backbone for our railways, modernising services to better serve towns and cities up and down the country."Bringing on board a new partner to work with HS2 Ltd now will help ensure we are working towards the same goal."

 

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said passengers would be pleased to see a "co-ordinated approach to delivering services".He went on: "With a franchise of this size, it is even more critical that passengers are kept at the very heart of it, and that their satisfaction is built into delivery targets.

 

"Less competition could too easily lead to premium pricing so passenger protection will have to be a priority. We will now be working with all bidders to share our detailed work on what current West Coast and future HS2 passengers want."Virgin Trains will be awarded a new short-term contract of approximately 12 months to continue operating West Coast services following the end of the current franchise in 2018.

 

An invitation to tender will be issued by the Department for Transport in October or November next year, which will set out what it wants from the winning bidder. The new franchise is scheduled to begin on April 1 2019.The Government said the operator must enhance West Coast services by boosting reliability and punctuality, as well as improving connections to better serve towns and cities along the route, which stretches from London to Manchester, Liverpool, North Wales, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

 

They will be expected to collaborate with HS2 Ltd to design, launch and operate the initial HS2 services and deliver the transition of the West Coast timetable as it is revised to take advantage of the extra capacity provided by HS2.HS2 is expected to nearly triple the number of seats during rush-hour from 11,000 to around 30,000.

 

The majority of intercity trains will run on the high-speed network, allowing more commuter services on the West Coast line.Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, representing train companies and Network Rail, said: "The rail industry is working hard to ensure HS2 is seamlessly integrated with the existing network as one railway and this decision is crucial to enabling that.

 

"It also signals a smooth transition when the new line opens in 2026."HS2 will become a very important part of Britain's railway for decades to come, and will play a huge part in managing the capacity challenge that we face."