Friday 20 May 2022

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The Department for Transport has decided to abandon the franchising system in England.

The franchise on this page ceased to exist on normal commercial terms on 23 March 2020, and was replaced by an Emergency Measures Agreement, which guaranteed an income to operators and removed commercial risk.

From 20 September 2020 until some time in 2022 Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements (ERMAs) replaced the original EMAs, slightly reducing the fixed fees paid to operators but otherwise continuing the protection from commercial risk.

Replacement contracts of a new type may be announced later on.

(In the case of Scottish franchises, the Scottish Government announced on 18 September an extension of its EMAs from 20 September 2020 to January 2021, pending further discussions.)

Avanti West Coast
West Coast Partnership

This franchise has replaced the former Virgin Trains contract.

Invitation to tender for Intercity West Coast had been expected November 2016 and a contract award in November 2017 for a start date of April 2018, but on 4 November 2016 the DfT announced that the next franchise would be known as the ‘West Coast Partnership’ and include HS2 when high speed services started (projected for 2026). The existing Intercity West Coast franchise was simultaneously extended by a further 12 months to April 2019 and was then extended again in December 2018 to 1 April 2020 (this later became 8 December 2019).

Expressions of Interest, December 2016
Shortlisted bidders announced 22 June 2017
Invitations to Tender, October/November 2017
Formal bids due, July 2018
Franchise start (original projected date), 1 April 2020

The principal bidders were:
(1) First Trenitalia West Coast Ltd, a joint venture between First Rail Holdings Ltd and Trenitalia SpA
(2) MTR West Coast Partnership Ltd, a joint venture between MTR Corporation (UK) Ltd and Guangshen Railway Company
(3) West Coast Partnership Ltd, a joint venture between Stagecoach Group plc (50%), Virgin Holdings Ltd (20%) and SNCF-C3 (30%).

For full details see DfT announcement.

On 10 April 2019 the DfT announced that the bid involving Stagecoach had been disqualified from the shortlist for lodging a ‘non-compliant’ proposal in relation to pension provision. (See Railnews report 10 April 2019.)

The West Coast Partnership was awarded to a consortium of FirstGroup and Trenitalia (70:30) on 14 August 2019 and is expected to run until at least 2031. However the initial franchise, trading as Avanti West Coast, was to be replaced by a management contract when Phase 1 of HS2 is opened, provisionally in 2026. There was also a break point in 2026.

However, the government announced on 21 September 2020 that it would be ending rail franchising. On 31 March 2021 the Department for Transport issued a Prior Information Notice (PIN) for a direct award of the West Coast Partnership National Rail contract, starting on 1 April 2022. This may last for up to 10 years.

start date
8 December 2019
end date
1 April 2022

owned by

service area
Long distance services: London Euston-Rugby-(Trent Valley)/Birmingham and Wolverhampton/Stoke-on-Trent-Crewe-Chester-WrexhamManchester/Liverpool/Holyhead/Glasgow. London-Blackpool North/Shrewsbury. From 2026 (projected) also High Speed services: London Euston-Birmingham International-Birmingham Curzon, and Birmingham-Crewe from 2027 or 2028.

Virgin Trains

to be replaced by
(direct award)


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