Virgin agrees West Coast franchise deal

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The Department for Transport (DfT) has agreed a new three-year West Coast rail franchise with incumbent Virgin Rail, promising £35 million of passenger benefits.

The franchise will start on Sunday and run until March 2017, with the DfT holding the option to extend the contract for a further year, and Virgin said changes will include converting some first class carriages to standard class, bringing a net increase of 2,100 seats a day.

Virgin Rail, a joint venture between Stagecoach and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group said 76 of its Pendolino and Super Voyager trains will be equipped with wi-fi, while more ticket machines will be installed at stations.

Martin Griffiths, chief executive of Stagecoach and co-chairman of and Virgin Rail, said the new commercial agreement will generate £433m in premium payments to the DfT over the initial period of the contract.

He added: “This new contract is a great deal for our customers, communities and taxpayers. Millions of passengers will benefit from thousands of extra seats, plans for new services and free super fast connectivity.

“At the same time, the taxpayer will receive a significant increase in income, helping support the government’s record investment in Britain’s rail network.”

Virgin had been set to lose the West Coast franchise in 2012 after the route was awarded to FirstGroup, but was handed it back amid “major failures” in the tendering process.