On February 9 British inter-city train operator Virgin Rail Group signed the long-awaited Train Service Provision leasing deal for Alstom Transport and Fiat Ferroviaria to design, supply and maintain a fleet of 225 km/h tilting trains to operate its West Coast inter-city franchise. The deal is valued at 1·8bn euros, of which the capital cost of the vehicles is 850m. Funding has been arranged by Angel Train Contracts, the Royal Bank of Scotland rolling stock leasing subsidiary.

The order provides for the supply of 53 eight and nine-car trainsets to operate on the West Coast main line linking London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. They will be based on the Fiat Pendolino, fitted with Alstom’s Onix three-phase traction drives (RG 10.98 p707), plus an option for an extra 44 vehicles to lengthen some sets in the future. The trains are to be assembled at Alstom Transport’s plant in Birmingham; a pre-series unit is to be ready for testing in July 2000. The first series set must be delivered in early 2001, with the full fleet in service by May 2002.

The 960m euros maintenance element provides for Alstom and Fiat to maintain the VWC fleet until the end of the Virgin franchise in 2012, through a new subsidiary West Coast Traincare Ltd. WCTC was due to take over Virgin West Coast’s six servicing depots with effect from February 27, taking responsibility for maintaining the existing fleet of electric locos and push-pull coaches and ensuring a smooth transition as the new trains come into service.