Virgin Trains will lose its long-standing West Coast franchise next December.

It will be replaced by First Trenitalia, which has been awarded the franchise for this voluminous network until 2031.

First Trenitalia is comprised of First Group (which has 70 per cent of the franchise) and Trenitalia (Italy’s state railway, which holds 30 per cent).

Readers may remember First Group won the WCML franchise back in 2012 but had to surrender it to Virgin Trains later following a legal challenge.

This time the new franchise is made more significant because it will also include HS2 (assuming it opens on schedule) from 2026.

Quoted in Railway Gazette, chief executive of Italy’s FS Group Gianfranco Battisti said, “We have more than 20 years of expertise in the high speed sector in Italy which has significantly improved connectivity for Italians.

“Trenitalia is operating in the only competitive and open market for high speed services in the world.”

The Evening Standard today said that Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson was “devastated” by the news.

In a statement, a Virgin spokesperson said the company would “work with First Trenitalia to ensure a seamless handover for customers, who should still book and travel as normal.”

According to Railway Gazette, First Group Trenitalia is paying a premium of £1.6 billion during the first phase of the franchise, which lasts up until 2026. The second phase will run until 2031 and will cover HS2.

So what benefits are passengers likely to get? The main ones are:

  • More convenient and flexible smart ticketing options
  • Free wi-fi and high quality mobile connectivity on board
  • Half-hourly London-Liverpool frequency
  • Improved delay repay arrangements
  • More trains. Some stations will gain direct links to London
  • Existing Pendolino fleet to be refurbished at a cost of £117 million
  • New fleet (to replace the existing diesel Voyagers) arriving in 2022 to include 13 bi-mode and 10 electric trainsets

All details are provided in the links above.

As we reported in June, Trenitalia wants to compete with SNCF between Paris and Milan.

Italy’s Thello wants to compete Paris-Milan with France’s SNCF

*****UPDATE: In the above copy we noted that Avanti would be ordering new trainsets to replace the diesel Voyagers.

It was announced today (December 6, 2019) that there will be a total of 23 new trainsets, a mixture of pure electric and bi-mode, manufactured by Hitachi in the UK.

Total cost is £350 million and they will enter service from 2022.*****