The DfT has announced four shortlisted bidders to run the West Coast Main Line from December 2012.
Abellio, FirstGroup, Keolis/ SNCF and Virgin go head to head to contest the franchise. The franchise is for 15 years and includes a commitment to provide 28,000 seats a day under a new flexible agreement which will allow further services to be scheduled around busy periods.
Says Transport Minister, Theresa Villiers, ‘Passengers will welcome the 28,000 additional seats this new franchise will deliver every day on what is becoming one of the UK’s busiest rail lines. A longer, more flexible franchise will encourage private sector investment, for example in improving stations. It will also promote greater efficiency to enable improvements to be made whilst driving down costs.’
The franchise winner will take on responsibility for 17 stations. The new franchise will commence in December and run until 2026, with an option to extend it for a further 20 months. The winner will be announced in August.
Under a section 54 agreement the franchise holder must continue to use Pendolinos until March 2022 and Voyagers until March, 2016. After this the franchisee is free to propose changes to the fleet.
The successful bidder will have the freedom to vary timetables on individual days in order to better meet demand. This is a major shift from the previous micro-management of the DfT.