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InterCity West Coast is a railway franchise in the United Kingdom for passenger trains on the West Coast Main Line (and branches thereof), between London Euston, the West Midlands, North Wales, Manchester, Carlisle Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other major destinations between. It was formed during the privatisation of British Rail and transferred to the private sector on 9 March 1997 when Virgin Trains, the current and only franchise-holder to date, commenced operations.

InterCity West Coast
Lichfield Trent Valley railway station MMB 05 390XXX.jpg
Current operatorVirgin Trains
Main Route(s)West Coast Main Line
Franchise dates9 March 1997 – 7 December 2019
Stations called at44
Stations operated17
Gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

The franchise was due to be re-let in December 2012, with FirstGroup announced as the winning bidder; this decision was later reversed after the discovery of irregularities in the franchise letting process. In December 2012, Virgin Trains was awarded a management contract to continue to run the franchise until November 2014, which was extended in several increments until 31 March 2020.

The InterCity West Coast franchise will be replaced on 8 December 2019[1] by the West Coast Partnership. The new franchise will include High Speed 2 operations once services begin on that line.


A map showing the off-peak service pattern each hour

As of March 2017, these are the services offered:

Route Calling at Stock Frequency
A London EustonGlasgow Central or Edinburgh Waverley via Birmingham New Street Milton Keynes Central, Coventry, Birmingham International, Birmingham New Street, Sandwell and Dudley, Wolverhampton, Crewe, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme Lake District (1tp2h), Penrith (1tp2h), Carlisle, then either (Glasgow Central) or (Haymarket, Edinburgh Waverley).
Trains call alternately at Oxenholme Lake District and Penrith. Before 1 pm, trains to Glasgow Central call at Penrith and trains to Edinburgh call at Oxenholme Lake District. After 1 pm, this is reversed.
Pendolino & Super Voyager 1tph
B London EustonBirmingham New Street Watford Junction (1tph), Rugby (1tph), Coventry, Birmingham International
Trains call alternately at Watford Junction and Rugby.
Peak time services run to/from Wolverhampton. Two daily services run to/from Shrewsbury which are operated by Super Voyagers.
Pendolino & Super Voyager 2tph
C London EustonChester, Bangor, Holyhead and Wrexham General Milton Keynes Central, Crewe
Certain trains are extended beyond Chester to/from Bangor (Gwynedd) or Holyhead.
1 train on Monday-Friday is extended to/from Wrexham General.
1 train on Monday-Friday runs between Bangor/Holyhead and Birmingham New Street.
Super Voyager 1tph
D London EustonLiverpool Lime Street Stafford, Crewe, Runcorn. Pendolino 1tph
E London EustonManchester Piccadilly Milton Keynes Central (1tph), (Stoke-on-Trent, Macclesfield (1tph) / Crewe, Wilmslow), Stockport
2tph run via Stoke-on-Trent and 1tph runs via Crewe.
Trains via Stoke-on-Trent call alternately at Milton Keynes Central and Macclesfield. Off-peak trains via Crewe do not call at Milton Keynes Central.
Pendolino 3tph
F London EustonGlasgow Central Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme Lake District (1tp2h), Penrith (1tp2h), Carlisle.
Trains call alternately at Oxenholme Lake District and Penrith.
One daily weekday service operates to/from Blackpool North which is operated by a Super Voyager.
Pendolino 1tph

1997 franchiseEdit

The initial franchise was contested by Sea Containers, Stagecoach and Virgin Rail Group.[2] Each submitted two bids, one based on an all tilting train fleet, and another based on a combination of conventional and tilting trains.[3] On 19 February 1997, the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising awarded a 15-year franchise to Virgin Rail Group, with Virgin Trains commencing operations on 9 March 1997.[4]

In order for tilting trains to be operated, Railtrack was committed to upgrade the West Coast Main Line to allow 140 mph operation by 2005. In the wake of the collapse of Railtrack and the inability of successor Network Rail to deliver on the upgrade, the franchise was suspended in favour of a management contracts in July 2002.[5] Due to costs having blown out from £2.5 billion to £10 billion there were cutbacks to the upgrade and the top speed reduced to 125 mph.[6]

2012 franchise processEdit

During 2011/12 the Department for Transport conducted a franchise competition, announced a winner, then cancelled the competition and refunded the costs of bids before any contracts were signed.

Bidding competitionEdit

With the franchise awarded in 1997 scheduled to end on 31 March 2012, the Department for Transport started the refranchising process in January 2011 by inviting expressions of interest in the Official Journal of the European Union[7] for a franchise from 1 April 2012 for 14 years to March 2026. The award of the franchise was stated to be based on the "most economically advantageous tender in terms of the criteria as stated in the specifications".[8] The franchise was the first to be offered under a new scheme rather than the previous "Cap and Collar" system, which provided for risk-sharing with government regarding future demand. The new scheme is intended to provide greater incentives for cost reduction by operators.[9][10][11] Because of the increased future risks carried by operators under the new scheme, the government requires a large financial surety to discourage early contract default.[12]

In March 2011, the Department for Transport shortlisted Abellio, FirstGroup, Keolis/SNCF and Virgin Rail Group to bid for the franchise, which would run for up to 15 years.[13] In May 2011, a Draft Invitation to Tender was issued to the shortlisted bidders, which stated the franchise start date had been postponed until 9 December 2012.[14] In October 2011, the Department for Transport announced that Virgin had been granted a franchise extension until 8 December 2012.[15] In January 2012, the Department for Transport issued the Final Invitation to Tender to the shortlisted bidders.[16] On 15 August 2012, the Department for Transport announced FirstGroup as the successful bidder for the franchise,[17] promising 11 new six-carriage electric trains, direct services to Blackpool in 2013, and to Telford, Shrewsbury and Bolton in 2016.[18]


On 10 August 2012 a report commissioned by Virgin Rail Group, detailing problems with the franchising evaluation process, was handed to the Department for Transport.[19][20][21]

An e-petition was created to urge the government to reconsider its decision and to debate the bids in the House of Commons. The petition was set up independently, but backed by Virgin, and attracted large support, gaining 50,000 signatures within two days. The 100,000 signatures required for the petition to be considered for debate in Parliament was exceeded. The matter was debated in the House of Commons on 17 September 2012.[22]

Following the public's response to Virgin's loss of the franchise, Louise Ellman, Chair of the Transport Select Committee, wrote to the then Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, asking her to delay the signing of the new contract until the committee have had a chance to explore the matter.[23] Virgin had offered to run the line on a 'not for profit' basis while this takes place.[24] Despite both public and political pressure for an independent review of the deal, the Department for Transport declared it would not delay the signing of the contract once the ten-day standstill period had expired. On 28 August 2012 Virgin Trains announced it would seek a judicial review of the franchise decision, preventing the contract being signed, claiming civil servants had "got their maths wrong with FirstGroup". The Department for Transport responded stating that they were confident the selection process was robust.[25][26] In September 2012, the Department for Transport began making arrangements for the franchise to pass temporarily to West Coast Main Line Limited, a subsidiary of Directly Operated Railways, had a judicial review been granted.[27][28]


On 3 October 2012, the government announced it was cancelling the franchise competition after discovering significant technical flaws in the bidding process, thus cancelling the decision to award it to FirstGroup. It was stated that civil servants had made significant mistakes in the way in which the risks for each bid had been calculated,[11] leading to a too low default surety being required of bidders.[12]

Two independent inquiries were announced; one to investigate the failed competition, led by Sam Laidlaw of Centrica, with Ed Smith, both on the Board of the Department for Transport; and the second led by Richard Brown of Eurostar, to investigate the wider franchise system.[29] Three civil servants were suspended.[30]

During September 2012 the newly appointed Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, had been warned of potential issues. On 2 October 2012, McLoughlin decided to cancel the franchise award.[31][32] The Department of Transport had been due in the High Court on 3 October 2012 to respond to a Judicial Review sought by Virgin Rail Group.

On 5 October 2012, one of the three suspended civil servants, Kate Mingay, released a statement to correct the reporting of her role in the franchising process.[33][34] Mingay began legal proceedings against the Department for Transport over her suspension, with a High Court hearing on 29 November 2012 rejecting her claim to have her suspension lifted.[35] It was announced on 6 December 2012 that all three of the suspended civil servants, including Mingay, would return to work.[36]

The government decided it would reimburse the four bidders for all costs incurred. This amounted to £39.7 million with a further £4.9 million paid to FirstGroup as reimbursement for mobilisation costs incurred.[37]

The Laidlaw report was published in December 2012, and found the DfT to be primarily responsible for the failure of the West Coast competition, having made several errors in its financial modelling.[38] The Brown report, published in January 2013, found no fundamental flaws in the bidding process but made recommendations for improvements.[39]

Management contract (2014–2019)Edit

In October 2012, the Department for Transport announced that Virgin Trains would continue to operate the franchise for between 9 and 13 months until a short-term interim franchise competition for the West Coast could be rerun.[40][41][42] In December 2012, Virgin was awarded a 23-month management contract until November 2014.[43]

In March 2013 the Secretary of State for Transport announced negotiations with Virgin to extend the franchise until 31 March 2017;[44] these were concluded in June 2014.[45] In 2016 the franchise was again extended[46] and in 2018 there was a further extension to March 2019, with an option for up to an additional year.[47][48] This option was taken up by the Department in December 2018, thereby extending the contract for a period potentially up to March 2020.[49][50]

West Coast Partnership (2019 onwards)Edit

In November 2016, the government announced that the InterCity West Coast franchise will be replaced by the West Coast Partnership, which will include operating High Speed 2 (HS2). Services are planned to begin on the first phase of HS2 in 2026.[51] The WCP franchise was originally planned to start in September 2019, to operate for an initial seven years of ICWC services (to 2026) followed by five years as the integrated operator for ICWC and HS2 (to 2031), with an option for the Secretary of State to extend the term by up to three years (to 2034).[52]

The Department for Transport requires that the new operator have experience in high speed trains and infrastructure, hence all bidders have partnered with an Asian or European high speed operator.[53][54] In June 2017, the DfT announced three consortiums had been shortlisted to bid for the franchise:[55][56]

On 27 March 2018, the Government issued the Invitation to Tender which required bids to be submitted by 13 July 2018; the new HS2 operator could be either a public-private partnership or a vertical integration.[58] The winning bidder was due to be announced in May 2019[59], but following the exercise by DfT of the option to extend the existing franchise, the decision was delayed. In April 2019, the award of the franchise was expected to take place in June.[60]

In December 2018, MTR announced that Spain's main rail operator Renfe Operadora had joined its joint bid as a key-subcontractor.[61]

In April 2019, the Government announced that the Stagecoach Group had been disqualified from bidding in three rail franchises, including for the West Coast Partnership,[62] and at the same time confirmed its intention to award the franchise in June.[63]

In June 2019, Virgin Trains announced plans for a rival open access service between Liverpool and London from May 2021.[64]

In August 2019, the DfT announced that First Trenitalia West Coast Rail was the successful bidder with West Coast Rail to commence operating on 8 December 2019.[65]


  1. ^ "Virgin Trains gets one-year extension to run west coast mainline". The Guardian. 23 December 2018. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Three shortlisted for West Coast" Rail issue 295 1 January 1997 page 10
  3. ^ "OPRAF receives final bids for West Coast" Rail issue 298 12 February 1997 page 7
  4. ^ Harrison, Michael (31 January 1997). "Virgin pledges tilt trains for West Coast". The Independent. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  5. ^ Supplementary memorandum by the Strategic Rail Authority House of Commons Publications 22 July 2002
  6. ^ West Coast railway upgrade under threat The Telegraph 24 July 2003
  7. ^ "Official Journal of the European Union notice for InterCity West Coast franchise" (PDF). Department for Transport. 11 January 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  8. ^ Department for Transport (11 January 2011). "OJEU Notice for the InterCity West Coast Franchise" (PDF). Department for Transport. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  9. ^ Wright, Robert (March 2011). "Goodbye to the cap-and-collar". Rail Professional. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  10. ^ Hammond, Philip (5 August 2011). "New franchising programme". Department for Transport. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  11. ^ a b "West Coast Main Line franchise competition cancelled" (Press release). Department for Transport. 3 October 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  12. ^ a b Odell, Mark; Jacobs, Rose (3 October 2012). "How franchise hit the buffers". Financial Times. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  13. ^ "Shortlisted Bidders for Greater Anglia and Intercity West Coast Rail Franchises" (PDF) (Press release). Department for Transport. 24 March 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  14. ^ "Draft Invitation to Tender for the InterCity West Coast franchise" (PDF). Department for Transport. 19 May 2011. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  15. ^ "West Coast passengers in line for 28,000 extra seats as franchise extension signed" (Press release). Department for Transport. 27 October 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  16. ^ "Invitation to Tender for the InterCity West Coast franchise" (PDF). Department for Transport. 20 January 2012.
  17. ^ "New operator for West Coast rail passengers" (Press release). Department for Transport. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  18. ^ Merton, Flora (15 August 2012). Delivering real and tangible benefits for customers (presentation). Intercity West Coast rail franchise award (Report). FirstGroup plc. p. 8. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  19. ^ Osborne, Alistair (4 October 2012). "Europa report alerted Government to West Coast flaws". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  20. ^ Islam, Faisal. "How a flawed process sank the government's rail strategy". Channel 4 News.
  21. ^ "Department for Transport was warned over Main Line contract". The Week. 5 October 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  22. ^ "E-petition relating to the West Coast Mainline franchise decision" (video recording). Westminster Hall Archive. Parliament of the United Kingdom. 17 September 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  23. ^ Transport Select Committee; Ellman, Louise (23 August 2012). "From Mrs Louise Ellman MP, Chair" (letter to Justine Greening). Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  24. ^ "Virgin Trains offers to run West Coast 'for free'". BBC News Online. 26 August 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  25. ^ "Virgin Trains takes West Coast Main Line court action". BBC. 28 August 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  26. ^ Milmo, Dan; Topham, Gwyn; Watt, Nicholas (28 August 2012). "Rail and air transport policy left in chaos". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  27. ^ Millward, David (18 September 2012). "Government team in place to run West Coast Main Line". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  28. ^ West Coast Main Line Company Limited 04659516 (Report). Companies House. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  29. ^ Trotman, Andrew (3 October 2012). "Government cancels West Coast Mainline contract due to 'flaws' in bidding process". Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  30. ^ Massey, Ray; Roberts, Hannah (3 October 2012). "Three civil servants suspended after government is forced to rerun bidding process for West Coast rail route because it got its sums wrong". Retrieved 7 October 2012. The news of the humiliating U-turn was sneaked out at one minute after midnight.
  31. ^ "West Coast Main Line franchise process a 'fiasco' says Branson". BBC News Online. 3 October 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  32. ^ Osborne, Alistair (6 October 2012). "West Coast Main Line: scrapped bid reveals chaos at the heart of government". The Independent. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  33. ^ Topham, Gwyn (5 October 2012). "West coast mainline row: civil servant hits out at Department for Transport". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2012.
  34. ^ Massey, Ray; Mcdermott, Nick (5 October 2012). "Suspended director blows cover in protest over West Coast franchise fiasco saying she had no responsibility over finances". Daily Mail. Retrieved 6 October 2012.
  35. ^ Osbourne, Alistair (29 November 2012). "West Coast rail: Kate Mingay accuses Government of making her a 'public sacrifice'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
  36. ^ "West Coast Mainline deal failure criticised". BBC News. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  37. ^ Annual Report 31 March 2013 page 186 Department for Transport
  38. ^ "West Coast Main Line: final report of the Laidlaw inquiry". GOV.UK. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  39. ^ "The Brown review of the rail franchising programme". GOV.UK. 10 January 2013. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  40. ^ "Virgin in talks on West Coast route contract extension". BBC News Online. 15 October 2012. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  41. ^ Odell, Mark; Parker, George (15 October 2012). "Virgin set for West Coast extension". Financial Times. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  42. ^ "Department for Transport to negotiate with Virgin on temporary operation of West Coast rail services" (Press release). 15 October 2012. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  43. ^ Two-year extension for Virgin Rail after West Coast chaos The Telegraph 5 December 2012
  44. ^ "Railway plan puts new focus on passengers" Secretary of State for Transport statement 26 March 2013
  45. ^ Virgin Trains profits gather speed as West Coast contract is extended The Independent 19 June 2014
  46. ^ "Franchise combines WCML services with HS2 in 'seamless integration'". Rail Technology Magazine. 4 November 2016. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  47. ^ "Virgin Trains directly awarded new InterCity West Coast franchise". Railway Gazette. 6 February 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  48. ^ "Rail Update – Chris Grayling". Hansard. 5 February 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  49. ^ "Virgin Rail Group West Coast rail franchise". RNS – London Stock Exchange. 21 December 2018. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  50. ^ Malnick, Edward; Morley, Katie (23 December 2018). "Outrage as Grayling awards Virgin rail franchise extension". The Sunday Telegraph.
  51. ^ "New West Coast rail franchise to run HS2 services". BBC News. 4 November 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  52. ^ "The West Coast Partnership Stakeholder Briefing Document" (PDF). GOV.UK. Department for Transport. March 2018. p. 20. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  53. ^ Wanted: Superfast mover to partner Virgin and Stagecoach for HS2 The Times 4 March 2017
  54. ^ RENFE poised to join Virgin's HS2 franchise bid Railway Gazette International 12 March 2017
  55. ^ West Coast Partnership and South Eastern rail franchise bidders Department for Transport 22 June 2017
  56. ^ Three shortlisted for West Coast Partnership franchise Railway Gazette International 22 June 2017
  57. ^ "Companies House Filing History MTR WEST COAST PARTNERSHIP LIMITED". 12 July 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  58. ^ Barrow, Keith (27 March 2018). "West Coast Partnership ITT launched with "fully-integrated" vision for HS2". International Railway Journal. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  59. ^ "Invitation to Tender for the InterCity West Coast franchise" (PDF). Department for Transport. 20 January 2012.
  60. ^ "East Midlands, South Eastern and West Coast Partnership franchise updates". GOV.UK. 9 April 2019. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  61. ^ "MTR teams up with operator of Europe's largest high speed rail network for West Coast Partnership bid". MTR Europe. 20 December 2018. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  62. ^ "Franchise ban for Stagecoach: Abellio wins East Midlands". Railnews. 10 April 2019. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  63. ^ "East Midlands, South Eastern and West Coast Partnership franchise updates". DfT. 10 April 2019.
  64. ^ "Virgin Trains plans rival London Liverpool services after franchise loss". ITV Granada. 11 June 2019. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  65. ^ "West Coast marks new partnership model for rail". DfT. 14 August 2019. Retrieved 14 August 2019.

External linksEdit