First Group wins West Coast Main Line contract from Virgin Rail
9:54am Wednesday 15th August 2012
TRANSPORT giant First Group, which operates bus services across Hampshire, has won its battle to take over running the West Coast Main Line from Richard Branson's Virgin Rail.
FirstGroup, now Britain's largest rail operator, vowed to "offer substantial improvements in the quality and frequency of services".
The company, which along with its bus services already has a number of rail franchises including Great Western and ScotRail, will take over the West Coast line on December 9.
The £5.5billion franchise will run for 13 years and four months.
FirstGroup chief executive Tim O'Toole said the company was delighted to win the franchise.
He said: ''We will be making significant improvements including reduced journey times and introducing new direct services.
''Our winning bid is a deliverable proposition that is compelling for all who want to see a greater use of our rail networks.
''We will be making significant improvements including reduced journey times and introducing new direct services. We will improve marketing and deliver a smart ticketing system, refreshed and improved train interiors, station upgrades and even better catering.
''In support of our commitment to generate increased passenger growth we will be reducing standard anytime fares by 15 per cent on average.''
Mr O'Toole said First West Coast would continue to invest in front-line staff and looked forward to welcoming new employees.
He added: ''Our bid also delivers value for taxpayers by returning premiums to the Government underpinned by sustainable growth in passenger numbers and revenues from the utilisation of significant available capacity.
''The new franchise will provide an economic return for our shareholders and is value enhancing from day one.''
Virgin Rail company had been operating the route since the dawn of privatisation in 1997.
Sir Richard said Virgin had submitted ''a strong and deliverable bid based on improving customers' experience, increased investment and sustained innovation''.
He said: ''To have bid more would have involved dramatic cuts to customer quality and considerable fare rises which we were unwilling to entertain.''
Sir Richard said Virgin had transformed the West Coast line, more than doubling annual passenger numbers and last year paying a net premium of £160 million to the taxpayer.
Announcing the new franchise winner, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers said the new franchise would deliver ''big improvements for passengers, with more seats and plans for more services''.
But the RMT transport union warned of ''massive cuts to jobs and passenger services and huge increases in fares''