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Italian company to co-run train services on UK's busiest railway line

The new rail company will run services from December. Credit: PA

An Italian company will co-run railway services on the UK's busiest railway line after Virgin lost its contract to do so.

First Trenitalia will operate its first services on the West Coast Main Line, which runs between London Euston and Glasgow, from December 8, the Department for Transport said.

The joint partnership between the Italian state railway firm and First includes responsibility for running the first High Speed Two services when they start in 2026.

First TrenItalia says passengers can expect simpler fares, new trains and more frequent on the West Coast Main Line, the backbone of Britain's railways.

The Department for Transport said the Government will "shortly launch a review" into the new railway, prompted by new Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Pledges made as part of the deal include flexible fares and more trains. Credit: First TrenItalia

The Government added the franchise system has been adapted from the previous "flawed" system which led to the collapse of contracts to run the East Coast Main Line between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh.

Matthew Gregory, chief executive of FirstGroup, which owns 70% of the joint venture said the new contracts have a "more appropriate balance of risk and rewards" for operators.

The company will be able to earn "returns on the significant improvement in services", however it is not known how this will affect customers and ticket prices.

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."

Sir Richard Branson, who owns former franchise holder Virgin, wrote in a blog: "I received the news this morning of the Department for Transport's decision that the West Coast Main Line franchise will pass to First Trenitalia.

"I am devastated for the teams - members of our Virgin family - who have worked tirelessly to become the top-rated franchise by customers in the UK today."

In total, 263 extra services are anticipated on the railway. It's likely these will run on the new High Speed Two line, the majority of which is yet to be built.

The company also boasts it will have more comfortable seats on existing trains, charging points at every seat and a delay repay service which kicks in after 15 minutes.