Wednesday 14 August 2019 9:45 am

First Group wins bid to replace Virgin on West Coast mainline

The government announced today that First Trenitalia had been appointed to run the West Coast mainline from December 2019 to 2031.

First Group and Italian firm Trenitalia will replace Virgin on the line that runs from London Euston to Glasgow via Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.

The First-Trenitalia consortium saw off a rival bid from a Chinese consortium led by Hong Kong’s subway operator MTR.

Read more: Activist investor Coast Capital rails against First franchise bid

The announcement today came despite an ongoing review into rail franchising by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps and Williams approved the partnership which the Department for Transport said was designed to fit with the direction of the review and to facilitate Williams’ recommendations in due course.

“This award is positive news for passengers, with more services, more direct connections and ambitious plans for a cleaner, greener railway, and also represents a decisive shift towards a new model for rail,” Shapps said.

The consortium has promised 263 extra services each week from 2022, the introduction of new environmentally friendly trains and a £117m refurbishment of the existing Pendolino fleet.

Williams said: “This West Coast Partnership delivers for passengers. It is a step forward that is firmly in line with the review, introducing benefits for passengers today and capable of incorporating the reforms needed for the future.”

Read more: Stagecoach sues Department for Transport over West Coast rail franchise

The award of the new contract has not been a smooth process and still threatens to boil over into litigation.

Virgin’s partner Stagecoach is currently sueing the DFT over the West COast mainline tender process after it was disqualified for a non-compliant bid.

First’s largest shareholder Coast Capital has also threatened to sue the board of the company if it enters into new rail contracts.

The award was slammed by rail union the RMT whose general secretary Mich Cash said: “The announcement this morning that First Trenitalia  are being shunted on to the West Coast mainline to replace Virgin/Stagecoach in the midst of the rail staff pension row is just anothe‎r political fix by a government whose privatised franchise model is collapsing around their ears.”