The government has announced a new rail franchise which will combine the current Inter City West Coast services with the development and introduction of HS2.
The new franchise – the West Coast Partnership – will be responsible for services on both the West Coast Main Line from 2019 and designing and running the initial high speed services from 2026.
The franchise, which will run for the first three to five years of operation of HS2, is the first step in attracting a world-class bidding group to develop and enhance the service for West Coast passengers and pave the way for the introduction of HS2 services in the future.
Transport minister Andrew Jones said:
HS2, Britain’s new railway, will reducing crowding on the existing network and generate economic growth up and down the country. Phase 1, due to open in 2026, will see trains travel at high speed between London and Birmingham before running on from Birmingham on the existing West Coast Main Line, setting a new benchmark in passenger experience along this route.
Chairman of HS2 Ltd Sir David Higgins said:
The new West Coast Partnership franchise will provide a strong private sector partner to work with the government, a partner who must combine experience of delivering both conventional and high speed railway operations, transforming customer service through the use of cutting-edge technology.
The franchise will deliver excellent services for West Coast passengers while working collaboratively with the HS2 construction project to develop the best solution for passengers now and in the future.
The new operator will need to build on the existing West Coast franchise to deliver a service which puts the needs of passengers first – driving up reliability and punctuality and improving connections to better serve towns and cities along the route. West Coast passengers will also see benefits before the introduction of HS2 passenger services through the early introduction of new technology being developed for this new railway.
The partnership approach means the winning bidder will collaborate with HS2 Ltd to design, launch and operate the initial HS2 services and deliver the transition of the timetable on the West Coast Main Line as it is revised to take advantage of the extra capacity provided by HS2.
The completion of the first phase of HS2 will nearly triple the number of seats at 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 to run on the West Coast line.
The new operator will work closely with local transport authorities, Transport Scotland and the Welsh Government to give passengers the better experience they demand from the West Coast Main Line.
Today’s announcement is just the first step. The formal Expression of Interest (EOI) for the West Coast Partnership is due to be published in December 2016, followed by the Invitation to Tender in October / November 2017, with the new franchise scheduled to start 1 April 2019.
The delivery of the West Coast Partnership will require a new short term contract of approximately 12 months for the continued operation of services on the West Coast Mainline, following the end of the current franchise in 2018.