UK: ‘I want to be very clear that this is a new type of franchise requiring a new kind of approach to bidding’, said Transport Minister Paul Maynard said on November 4, confirming that the franchise which is to replace the current InterCity West Coast franchise from April 2019 would combine the operation of existing West Coast Main Line services with the development and introduction of services on the first phase of High Speed 2. ‘A unique feature of this competition is that the winning bidding group will need transformational expertise across all rail operational and customer service disciplines’, he added.

The new West Coast Partnership franchise would cover the first three to five years of operation of the initial London – Birmingham phase of HS2, which is scheduled to open in 2026.

West Coast Partnership timeline
Expressions of interest invitedDecember 2016
Invitations to tender October or November 2017
Franchise starts April 1 2019
HS1 Phase 1 opens 2026

The Department for Transport said the winning bidder would be ‘a strong private sector partner’, with experience of both conventional and high speed railway operations and of ‘transforming customer service through the use of cutting-edge technology’. As well as working with local transport authorities, Transport Scotland and the Welsh Government, the operator would collaborate with high speed line developer HS2 Ltd to design, launch and operate the initial HS2 services and manage the revision of the timetable on the WCML to take advantage of the extra capacity provided. The majority of the franchise’s inter-city trains would transfer to the high speed network, which would enable more commuter services to run on the existing WCML and thus ‘nearly triple the number of seats at rush hour from 11 000 to around 30 000’.

‘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’, said Transport Minister Andrew Jones. ‘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.’

HS2 Ltd Chairman Sir David Higgins said the new franchise offered ‘a real opportunity to ensure HS2 services complement and enhance existing ones’. He said he had ‘always been clear HS2 will not be a standalone railway but fully integrated with the wider network.’

Maggie Simpson, Executive Director of the Rail Freight Group, said combing ICWC and HS2 services was a ‘pragmatic move’ for the passenger sector, but ‘makes no reference to how the needs of other network users will be included’. With 95% of intermodal services using the WCML at some point, RFG said the government must ‘clarify how it expects the West Coast Partnership to work with freight operators and their customers in building a shared future on this vital artery.’

  • The Department for Transport also confirmed that a new short-term contract of around 12 months would be required to cover the operation of ICWC services when the current franchise held by Virgin Trains expires in 2018.