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How will passengers find the two into one approach?

04 November 2016

My train journeys between Manchester and London today provide a good opportunity to reflect on this morning’s announcement of a new franchise to combine the West Coast services currently operated by Virgin, with the development and early operation of HS2.

Rolling the two into one – the West Coast Partnership – suggests a pragmatic approach to the inevitable conflicts between the needs of today’s passengers and the demands of building the infrastructure on which the new HS2 trains will run.

The rebuild of Euston will be a particular challenge but there will be other pinch points along the route and having one company with an interest in the outcomes on both sides seems to make sense.

The statements about requiring a transformation in both the rail operation and customer service elements and putting the passenger at the heart of the franchise are welcome – and in line with our long-stated calls. We’ll be working with the Department to see how these are fully reflected in the specification to bidders.

There is one area where we’ll be keeping a particularly close watch – and that’s the impact on competition when two services serving largely the same destinations are provided under one combined operation. There is a risk that it will be too easy to adopt a premium pricing approach on both services. This will not be to the benefit of passengers who place better value for money as one of their top priorities for improvement. Passenger protection must be a priority, alongside clear measures of their satisfaction built into the targets for delivery.

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