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Rail Franchising

Volume 616: debated on Friday 4 November 2016

Today, I am announcing the competition for a new combined rail franchise - the West Coast partnership (WCP).

This new proposition is seeking to attract a world class partner to develop and enhance the existing Intercity West Coast (ICWC) operation and help shape the development of HS2 and operate its first services in 2026.

We are embarking on a new chapter in the modernisation of our railways. A strong private sector partner is vital now to work with the Government and as an advocate for passengers on the West Coast, to ensure excellent passenger services in the run up to HS2 introduction, and a smooth transition to the next generation of rail franchising as HS2 becomes the new backbone of Britain’s railways.

I want to be very clear that this is a new type of franchise requiring a new kind of approach to bidding.

A unique feature of this competition is that the winning bidding group will need transformational expertise across all rail operational and customer service disciplines.

The new operator will need to build on the existing ICWC long-distance, inter-city, cross-border services between England, Scotland and Wales by delivering a service which truly puts passengers at the heart of the railway.

The new operator will have to demonstrate how they will drive up punctuality and reliability - working to deliver a right time journey experience for passengers and examine closely the potential for better connections between the towns and cities they serve to enable economic growth.

The new operator will also need to bring about a transformation in passenger satisfaction around fares and ticketing, delivering the passengers expectation to have all of the information they need to choose the best ticket for their journeys.

This exciting competition is aimed at attracting a world class partner to enhance and develop the ICWC services and take forward the delivery of the train services on HS2.

There are a number of key interfaces between the delivery of HS2 and the ICWC rail franchise and I believe there are significant benefits in bringing the two projects closer together to ensure the best outcomes for passengers both before and after the start of the HS2 services.

Benefits of the partnership proposition include:

ICWC passengers benefitting from new technology before the introduction of High Speed services

An experienced operator coming on board at an early stage to shape service design based on knowledge of the markets and passenger needs

A strong partner acting collaboratively with HS2 Ltd to design, launch and operate the passenger services on HS2 and manage the timetable recast of the West Coast Main Line. The successful bidder will need to work in partnership with the DfT, HS2 Ltd, local transport authorities, Transport Scotland and the Welsh Government.

Today’s announcement to market of this new proposition is the first step in a process. The Expression of Interest (EOI) for the WCP is due to be published in December 2016, followed by the invitation to tender in October/ November 2017 with the new franchise scheduled to commence 1 April 2019.

The delivery of the WCP will require a new short term contract of approximately 12 months for the continued operation of services.