|Current operator||Virgin Trains|
|Main Route(s)||West Coast Main Line|
|Franchise dates||9 March 1997 – 7 December 2019|
|Stations called at||44|
|Gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
InterCity West Coast is a railway franchise in the United Kingdom for passenger trains on the West Coast Main Line (and branches thereof), between London Euston, the West Midlands, North Wales, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other major destinations between. It was formed during the privatisation of British Rail and transferred to the private sector on 9 March 1997 when Virgin Trains, the current and only franchise-holder to date, commenced operations.
The franchise was due to be re-let in December 2012, with FirstGroup announced as the winning bidder; this decision was later reversed after the discovery of irregularities in the franchise letting process. In December 2012, Virgin Trains was awarded a management contract to continue to run the franchise until November 2014, which was extended in several increments until 31 March 2020.
As of March 2017[update], these are the services offered:
|A||London Euston – Glasgow Central or Edinburgh Waverley via Birmingham New Street||Milton Keynes Central, Coventry, Birmingham International, Birmingham New Street, Sandwell and Dudley, Wolverhampton, Crewe, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme Lake District (1tp2h), Penrith (1tp2h), Carlisle, then either (Glasgow Central) or (Haymarket, Edinburgh Waverley).
Trains call alternately at Oxenholme Lake District and Penrith. Before 1 pm, trains to Glasgow Central call at Penrith and trains to Edinburgh call at Oxenholme Lake District. After 1 pm, this is reversed.
|Pendolino & Super Voyager||1tph|
|B||London Euston – Birmingham New Street||Watford Junction (1tph), Rugby (1tph), Coventry, Birmingham International
Trains call alternately at Watford Junction and Rugby.
Peak time services run to/from Wolverhampton. Two daily services run to/from Shrewsbury which are operated by Super Voyagers.
|Pendolino & Super Voyager||2tph|
|C||London Euston – Chester, Bangor, Holyhead and Wrexham General||Milton Keynes Central, Crewe
Certain trains are extended beyond Chester to/from Bangor (Gwynedd) or Holyhead.
1 train on Monday-Friday is extended to/from Wrexham General.
1 train on Monday-Friday runs between Bangor/Holyhead and Birmingham New Street.
|D||London Euston – Liverpool Lime Street||Stafford, Crewe, Runcorn.||Pendolino||1tph|
|E||London Euston – Manchester Piccadilly||Milton Keynes Central (1tph), (Stoke-on-Trent, Macclesfield (1tph) / Crewe, Wilmslow), Stockport
2tph run via Stoke-on-Trent and 1tph runs via Crewe.
Trains via Stoke-on-Trent call alternately at Milton Keynes Central and Macclesfield. Off-peak trains via Crewe do not call at Milton Keynes Central.
|F||London Euston – Glasgow Central||Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme Lake District (1tp2h), Penrith (1tp2h), Carlisle.
Trains call alternately at Oxenholme Lake District and Penrith.
One daily weekday service operates to/from Blackpool North which is operated by a Super Voyager.
The initial franchise was contested by Sea Containers, Stagecoach and Virgin Rail Group. Each submitted two bids, one based on an all tilting train fleet, and another based on a combination of conventional and tilting trains. On 19 February 1997, the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising awarded a 15-year franchise to Virgin Rail Group, with Virgin Trains commencing operations on 9 March 1997.
In order for tilting trains to be operated, Railtrack was committed to upgrade the West Coast Main Line to allow 140 mph operation by 2005. In the wake of the collapse of Railtrack and the inability of successor Network Rail to deliver on the upgrade, the franchise was suspended in favour of a management contracts in July 2002. Due to costs having blown out from £2.5 billion to £10 billion there were cutbacks to the upgrade and the top speed reduced to 125 mph.
2012 franchise process
During 2011/12 the Department for Transport conducted a franchise competition, announced a winner, then cancelled the competition and refunded the costs of bids before any contracts were signed.
With the franchise awarded in 1997 scheduled to end on 31 March 2012, the Department for Transport started the refranchising process in January 2011 by inviting expressions of interest in the Official Journal of the European Union for a franchise from 1 April 2012 for 14 years to March 2026. The award of the franchise was stated to be based on the "most economically advantageous tender in terms of the criteria as stated in the specifications". The franchise was the first to be offered under a new scheme rather than the previous "Cap and Collar" system, which provided for risk-sharing with government regarding future demand. The new scheme is intended to provide greater incentives for cost reduction by operators. Because of the increased future risks carried by operators under the new scheme, the government requires a large financial surety to discourage early contract default.
In March 2011, the Department for Transport shortlisted Abellio, FirstGroup, Keolis/SNCF and Virgin Rail Group to bid for the franchise, which would run for up to 15 years. In May 2011, a Draft Invitation to Tender was issued to the shortlisted bidders, which stated the franchise start date had been postponed until 9 December 2012. In October 2011, the Department for Transport announced that Virgin had been granted a franchise extension until 8 December 2012. In January 2012, the Department for Transport issued the Final Invitation to Tender to the shortlisted bidders. On 15 August 2012, the Department for Transport announced FirstGroup as the successful bidder for the franchise, promising 11 new six-carriage electric trains, direct services to Blackpool in 2013, and to Telford, Shrewsbury and Bolton in 2016.
An e-petition was created to urge the government to reconsider its decision and to debate the bids in the House of Commons. The petition was set up independently, but backed by Virgin, and attracted large support, gaining 50,000 signatures within two days. The 100,000 signatures required for the petition to be considered for debate in Parliament was exceeded. The matter was debated in the House of Commons on 17 September 2012.
Following the public's response to Virgin's loss of the franchise, Louise Ellman, Chair of the Transport Select Committee, wrote to the then Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, asking her to delay the signing of the new contract until the committee have had a chance to explore the matter. Virgin had offered to run the line on a 'not for profit' basis while this takes place. Despite both public and political pressure for an independent review of the deal, the Department for Transport declared it would not delay the signing of the contract once the ten-day standstill period had expired. On 28 August 2012 Virgin Trains announced it would seek a judicial review of the franchise decision, preventing the contract being signed, claiming civil servants had "got their maths wrong with FirstGroup". The Department for Transport responded stating that they were confident the selection process was robust. In September 2012, the Department for Transport began making arrangements for the franchise to pass temporarily to West Coast Main Line Limited, a subsidiary of Directly Operated Railways, had a judicial review been granted.
On 3 October 2012, the government announced it was cancelling the franchise competition after discovering significant technical flaws in the bidding process, thus cancelling the decision to award it to FirstGroup. It was stated that civil servants had made significant mistakes in the way in which the risks for each bid had been calculated, leading to a too low default surety being required of bidders.
Two independent inquiries were announced; one to investigate the failed competition, led by Sam Laidlaw of Centrica, with Ed Smith, both on the Board of the Department for Transport; and the second led by Richard Brown of Eurostar, to investigate the wider franchise system. Three civil servants were suspended.
During September 2012 the newly appointed Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, had been warned of potential issues. On 2 October 2012, McLoughlin decided to cancel the franchise award. The Department of Transport had been due in the High Court on 3 October 2012 to respond to a Judicial Review sought by Virgin Rail Group.
On 5 October 2012, one of the three suspended civil servants, Kate Mingay, released a statement to correct the reporting of her role in the franchising process. Mingay began legal proceedings against the Department for Transport over her suspension, with a High Court hearing on 29 November 2012 rejecting her claim to have her suspension lifted. It was announced on 6 December 2012 that all three of the suspended civil servants, including Mingay, would return to work.
The government decided it would reimburse the four bidders for all costs incurred. This amounted to £39.7 million with a further £4.9 million paid to FirstGroup as reimbursement for mobilisation costs incurred.
The Laidlaw report was published in December 2012, and found the DfT to be primarily responsible for the failure of the West Coast competition, having made several errors in its financial modelling. The Brown report, published in January 2013, found no fundamental flaws in the bidding process but made recommendations for improvements.
Management contract (2014–2019)
In October 2012, the Department for Transport announced that Virgin Trains would continue to operate the franchise for between 9 and 13 months until a short-term interim franchise competition for the West Coast could be rerun. In December 2012, Virgin was awarded a 23-month management contract until November 2014.
In March 2013 the Secretary of State for Transport announced negotiations with Virgin to extend the franchise until 31 March 2017; these were concluded in June 2014. In 2016 the franchise was again extended and in 2018 there was a further extension to March 2019, with an option for up to an additional year. This option was taken up by the Department in December 2018, thereby extending the contract for a period potentially up to March 2020.
West Coast Partnership (2019 onwards)
In November 2016, the government announced that the InterCity West Coast franchise will be replaced by the West Coast Partnership, which will include operating High Speed 2 (HS2). Services are planned to begin on the first phase of HS2 in 2026. The WCP franchise was originally planned to start in September 2019, to operate for an initial seven years of ICWC services (to 2026) followed by five years as the integrated operator for ICWC and HS2 (to 2031), with an option for the Secretary of State to extend the term by up to three years (to 2034).
The Department for Transport requires that the new operator have experience in high speed trains and infrastructure, hence all bidders have partnered with an Asian or European high speed operator. In June 2017, the DfT announced three consortiums had been shortlisted to bid for the franchise:
- FirstGroup (70%) / Trenitalia (30%)
- MTR Corporation (75%) / Guangshen Railway Company (25%) / Renfe Operadora
- Stagecoach (50%) / SNCF (30%) / Virgin Group (20%)
On 27 March 2018, the Government issued the Invitation to Tender which required bids to be submitted by 13 July 2018; the new HS2 operator could be either a public-private partnership or a vertical integration. The winning bidder was due to be announced in May 2019, but following the exercise by DfT of the option to extend the existing franchise, the decision was delayed. In April 2019, the award of the franchise was expected to take place in June.
In April 2019, the Government announced that the Stagecoach Group had been disqualified from bidding in three rail franchises, including for the West Coast Partnership, and at the same time confirmed its intention to award the franchise in June.
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