Transport secretary Chris Grayling says that a range of operating models will be explored for the forthcoming West Coast Partnership contract

 

“An integrated railway operation, in charge of both its infrastructure and its services, akin to some Japanese high-speed lines”

 

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has indicated that full vertical integration will be among the options considered for operating HS2 when its first phase opens in 2026.

Issuing the formal invitation for three shortlisted companies to bid for the new West Coast Partnership franchise, Grayling said the possibilities included “an integrated railway operation, in charge of both its infrastructure and its services, akin to some Japanese high-speed lines”. Other options could include a public private partnership structure.

The arrangement for managing HS2 will be determined by the WCP operator, HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport after the new franchise begins in September 2019. In the period before 2026, the WCP operator’s responsibilities will also include helping to design the HS2 service, planning the introduction of the trains and developing the customer service and fares offer. The company will have to pass performance tests before the new line opens to confirm it has the necessary skills to provide a high class service and act as a proper partner to HS2 Ltd and the DfT until the franchise’s scheduled end in 2031. The contract can be terminated if it fails the tests.

Grayling also said the WCP operator would be expected to make rapid improvements to the existing West Coast service from franchise start. They include simplifying fares, revising the service to reduce crowding, providing new integrated transport options, improving on-board internet access and potentially providing faster journeys and serving new destinations. A minimum target has been set for  50% of journeys to be made on smartcards within 15 months.

‘Exemplary’ passenger satisfaction targets for trains, stations, customer services and dealing with delays will be set with higher penalties for failing to improve on current performance.

The new West Coast Partnership will deliver immediate benefits to passengers and pave the way for the seamless introduction of HS2

“The new West Coast Partnership will deliver immediate benefits to passengers and pave the way for the seamless introduction of HS2, with one operator responsible for all aspects of the journey, designed to deliver the best possible passenger service,” Grayling said.

The three shortlisted bidders are FirstGroup/Trenitalia, MTR/Guangshen Railway Company and Stagecoach/Virgin/SNCF.

The new operator will take the revenue risk until 2026. When the new line opens, revenue risk will pass to the DfT and the contract will run as a concession.

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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