Group explores open access opportunities in Spanish rail market

 
Virgin is expected to hand back the keys to the West Coast franchise next year

 

Virgin Group says it intends to explore opportunities outside the UK following the collapse of its bid to operate the West Coast Partnership franchise with Stagecoach and SNCF. It says the UK rail market is now “uninvestable”.

It follows the news that a number of senior Virgin executives have recently returned from Spain where they explored possibilities arising from the liberalisation of the high speed rail market there from late 2020. That move will see state-owned rail operator Renfe facing competition from open access competitors.

“We’ve always been passionate about delivering the best customer experience and have revolutionised UK rail over the last 22 years; bringing in faster and more frequent services, industry-leading technology and the highest customer satisfaction rates,” said Patrick McCall, a senior partner at Virgin Group.

Unfortunately the UK is fast-becoming uninvestable from a rail franchise perspective, because of the UK government’s decision to load unacceptable risk on to bidders

“Unfortunately the UK is fast-becoming uninvestable from a rail franchise perspective, because of the UK government’s decision to load unacceptable risk on to bidders.

“We welcome the liberalisation of the Spanish rail market, where we hope competition will be allowed to flourish and the best operators will be able to drive significant improvements in customer service. We are currently considering our options.”

Virgin is expected to hand back the keys to the West Coast franchise next year. A decision on a winner of the West Coast Partnership franchise has yet to be revealed with a joint bid from FirstGroup and Trenitalia facing competition from a consortium of MTR Corporation and Guangshen Railway Company.

However, last month Virgin Rail Group announced that it had applied to the Office of Rail and Road for permission to operate open access services between London and Liverpool from May 2021 (PT211). The application brings together the three partners from the failed West Coast Partnership bid.

The partners are planning to operate 24 open access services per day and have promised to take the “customer experience on the UK’s railways to the next level” with the service.

 
This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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