FIRST Trenitalia will operate train services on the West Coast Main Line from December 8, the Department for Transport has said.

It will replace Virgin which has run the service since 1997 on the route which connects Warrington to London.

It was barred from bidding again.

The joint First Group and Trenitalia partnership was awarded the West Coast Partnership (WCP) contract, which also includes responsibility for running the first HS2 trains from 2026.

But the DfT said the Government will 'shortly launch a review' into the new high-speed railway, which was widely expected after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.

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It added that the WCP has been designed to ensure it can "implement the review's outcomes".

The department said the contract is a 'significant move away from the previous flawed franchising system'.

Matthew Gregory, chief executive of FirstGroup, which owns 70 per cent of the joint venture, said: "The differences between this contract and more traditional rail franchises were reflected in the terms set out by the DfT, which has resulted in a more appropriate balance of risks and rewards for us as operators.

"The West Coast Partnership's first phase allows us to earn returns on the significant investments in services and facilities for passengers but protected by a much improved revenue risk-sharing mechanism.

"This will transition to a management contract in the second phase, ensuring we can really focus on using the respective skills and experience within our joint venture to deliver the desired benefits of the HS2 project for passengers and the country."

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The deal includes station improvements for Warrington Bank Quay, among others, and the promise of an 'easily understandable range of fares and fewer ticket types'.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the award of the contract is supported by Keith Williams, who is leading a Government-commissioned review into the railway.

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"This award is positive news for passengers, with more services, more direct connections and ambitious plans for a cleaner, greener railway, and also represents a decisive shift towards a new model for rail," he said.

"It is a partnership supported by Keith Williams, built with the flexibility to respond to his recommendations and deliver fundamental reform to a flawed system.

"Meeting Keith last week confirmed our shared determination to deliver a future that puts passengers at the heart of the railways, and get our trains to run on time.

"That is why I have asked Keith to produce his recommendations for a White Paper, with fearless proposals that will deliver a railway system fit for the 21st century."


Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said: "The announcement this morning that First Trenitalia are being shunted on to the West Coast Main Line to replace Virgin/Stagecoach in the midst of the rail staff pension row is just another political fix by a Government whose privatised franchise model is collapsing around their ears.

"Instead of following the popular public sector route, the Tories are taking yet another gamble on the crucial West Coast lines with one of the dwindling number of private operator consortia left in the game, in a move that RMT believes is doomed to failure and sure to result in yet more rail chaos.

"RMT will take whatever action is required to protect out members' pay, jobs, working conditions and pensions on these vital inter-city routes."


A spokesman for Virgin Trains, which has ran trains on the West Coast route since 1997, said: "Virgin Trains has led the industry for 22 years, delivering faster journeys to more destinations, harnessing new technology and always putting the customer first.

"We'll now work with First Trenitalia to ensure a seamless handover for customers, who should still book and travel as normal."