Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson was “devastated” today after it was announced West Coast mainline rail services between London and Glasgow, and the first stage of HS2, will be taken on by First Trenitalia from December.
The new contract ends 20 years of West Coast control by Virgin and the new operator is promising a complete refurbishment of 56 Pendolino trains, new seats, free wi-fi, upgraded catering and more frequent services.
The line is Britain’s most profitable rail franchise. First Group and Trenitalia UK, a subsidiary ultimately owned by the Italian government, will run the service as a 70-30 joint venture.
They will be responsible for developing HS2 between London and Birmingham up until 2026, and then managing the line until 2031.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “This award is positive news for passengers, with more services, more direct connections and ambitious plans for a cleaner, greener railway.”
Virgin and its partner Stagecoach were barred from the tendering process by Whitehall over pension rules.Sir Richard said: “I am devastated for the teams — members of our Virgin family — who have worked tirelessly to become the top-rated franchise.”
The threat of the first national rail strike for decades increased dramatically today after news of the franchise award, as the RMT union called it “just another political fix.”
Trenitalia has run the C2C service between east London and Essex since 2017 and a high-speed line in Italy.