A NEW prospectus for the next Intercity West Coast franchise has been published by the Department for Transport, confirming that the next operator will also be expected to manage the introduction of services on HS2. Phase 1 of the high speed line is due to open in 2026. and the DfT has described the combined project as a 'once in a lifetime opportunity'.
Known as the West Coast Partnership franchise, the contract will run from 2019, and the DfT has described its ambitions for the route: "The West Coast must set a new international standard for rail that other countries admire and seek to emulate. The route must be something that passengers want to use, supporting jobs and growth."
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: "HS2 will be the backbone of Britain’s railways, creating more seats for passengers on the West Coast, and increasing capacity on the rest of the network.
"We need world-class expertise to deliver this new chapter in modernising the railways. We are calling for bidder groups with a blend of skills including operating conventional rail services, high speed rail services, technical innovation and great customer service. We expect to attract highly experienced companies, which ultimately means a better deal for passengers both now and in the future.
"HS2 will generate economic growth throughout the country and reduce crowding on the existing network. Phase 1, due to open in 2026, will see trains travel at high speed between London and Birmingham, and continue on to serve other destinations on the existing West Coast Main Line."
Meanwhile HS2 Ltd chairman David Higgins has described the Partnership as 'central' to developing an 'integrated environment' for the West Coast corridor, which will be served by classic and high speed routes. He said: "By bringing all our skills, experience and ideas together, we will create the best railway in the world."
The DfT added that passengers on the existing intercity route would see benefits before the formal opening of HS2, because of the introduction of new technology. The Intercity West Coast timetable will also evolve from the mid-2020s onwards, taking the extra capacity provided by the high speed line into account.
The new operator will also be expected to 'work closely' with local transport authorities, Transport Scotland and the Welsh Government.
The West Coast Partnership is scheduled to start on 1 April 2019, and the DfT announced a 12-month extension of the existing Virgin franchise on 4 November last year.