A new deal for rail services on the West Coast Main Line that will bring thousands more seats, free wi-fi and pave the way for new journeys on the route has been awarded to Virgin, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has announced.
The direct award contract will run for two years and nine months and see the train operator continue to provide vital passenger journeys between London, Scotland and Wales as the government forges ahead with its multi-billion pound investment to improve and maintain our railways.
The decision comes two years after Virgin challenged a government decision to award the rail franchise to First Group.
The new contract will bring £35 million worth of passenger benefits, including the conversion of 21 first-class carriages to standard class, delivering 5,500 extra standard seats per day across the network.
Free wi-fi at stations will also be added, while coverage across the entire fleet will be improved.
McLoughlin said: “This deal will provide thousands more seats and better journeys for the tens of thousands of passengers who use these services every day.
“The West Coast provides a vital artery between London and Scotland and it is crucial we do everything we can to improve services on this much-used route.
“This is further proof of our commitment to get the best deal for passengers and taxpayers with Virgin set to pay more than £430 million to run the franchise.
“It’s all part of our long-term economic plan to drive forward our economy and provide better services now and great services with HS2.”
More than £20 million will also be invested to modernise and enhance stations, including improving waiting rooms, seats and shelters.
The contract is the sixth direct award to be delivered by the department following the re-launch of its franchising schedule in March last year.
Industry expert Richard Brown in his independent report into franchising had advised staggering competitions to make them more deliverable.
The government announced a programme of direct awards to deliver this.