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West Coast Partnership (Intercity West Coast and HS2)

What is happening now?

The Secretary for State for Transport launched the Invitation to Tender and Stakeholder Briefing Document in March 2018, kicking off the competition to run the West Coast Partnership. Read our statement here.

The three bidders submitted their proposals in July 2018 and these are currently being evaluated by the Department for Transport.


In November 2016 the Government announced that a new franchise will combine the current InterCity West Coast services with the development and introduction of High Speed 2 services. The franchise will be known as the West Coast Partnership, and will be responsible for services on both the West Coast Main Line from 2019 and designing and running the initial high speed services from 2026.

Responding to the announcement, Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said:

“Passengers now and in the future will be pleased to see a co-ordinated approach to delivering services running up the west coast as the new line opens up more capacity. With a franchise of this size, it is even more critical that passengers are kept at the very heart of it, and that their satisfaction is built into delivery targets. Less competition could too easily lead to premium pricing so passenger protection will have to be a priority. We will now be working with all bidders to share our detailed work on what current West Coast and future HS2 passengers want.”

In June 2017, the Government announced a shortlist of three bidders to compete to run the new West Coast Partnership franchise. It will be responsible for services on the West Coast Main Line and will design and run the initial HS2 high speed services between London and Birmingham. The three are all joint ventures:

  • First Group and Trenitalia
  • MTR and Guangshen Railway Company
  • Stagecoach, Virgin and SNCF.

A previous competition to operate this franchise was cancelled in October 2012 following a legal challenge from Virgin and identification of flaws in the process. This led to a wider review of rail franchising and subsequent changes to the DfT approach once the programme was resumed. Virgin Trains has continued to operate the West Coast franchise under short term contracts since the original competition was cancelled.

In 2016 the DfT launched a consultation into the future of InterCity West Coast services. The consultation sought the views of passengers and stakeholders and the result helped to inform the specification of the new franchise.

A short term contract has been awarded until the new franchise commences.

Our role in the franchising process

It is critical that the passenger interest is kept at the heart of all plans as the franchise is specified and progresses. We are working with bidders and the Government to ensure that this happens, including building passenger satisfaction into the targets of what they deliver. We will also focus on the pricing of new HS2 and existing services, the handling of engineering work disruption and the layout of new trains.

We responded to the Government’s consultation into the future of InterCity West Coast services in August 2016.

Previously we met with the DfT to determine our input to the next franchise replacement process and we continued to hold detailed discussions with the DfT on the key issues. In Autumn 2015 we carried out research to explore passengers’ current experiences and aspirations for the future. This research informed our discussions with DfT and our further input to this franchise. An overview of the findings is available here. We have also drawn on our work with the HS2 passenger panel.

We made representations to the DfT about the passenger benefits we wanted to see delivered by the most recent Direct Award. These included establishing NRPS targets for the franchise which are now in place.

We had previously conducted research and assessed the available NRPS data to provide evidence of what passengers wanted from the franchise which we fed into the subsequently cancelled competition.

Our National Rail Passenger Survey gives a twice-yearly perspective on passenger satisfaction across the network.

Transport Focus reports and publications

August 2016 High Speed Two (HS2) – a passenger view
August 2016 The West Coast franchise – our consultation response
February 2016 West Coast passenger research – an overview
February 2016 West Coast passenger research – agency report
January 2012 Priorities for the West Coast main line research
October 2011 Summary of Passenger Focus research and recommendations to government

Department for Transport reports and publications

November 2016 Government announces new rail franchise for Inter City West Coast with the introduction of High Speed 2 services
June 2014 Rail Franchising: Intercity West Coast – Written statement to Parliament
December 2012 Report of the Laidlaw inquiry
October 2012 The Laidlaw Inquiry into the InterCity West Coast Franchise: interim report
 October 2012 West Coast Main Line franchise competition cancelled

Click here for other key Department for Transport publications



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