Virgin Trains has signed an agreement with the Department for Transport to extend the current West Coast franchise which was due to expire at the end of March 2012, but will now be extended until 8 December 2012.
Virgin is among the shortlisted bidders to take on the next franchise from 9 December 2012 until 31 March 2026. The shortlist is Abellio, First Group, Keolis/SNCF and Virgin.
The DfT deal means that new trains and carriages will be introduced to help continue growth on West Coast, where the number of customers has more than doubled in the last seven years, from 14m in 2004 to around 30m in the current year. Under the extension agreement, Virgin Trains plans to add two Standard carriages to each of 31 existing Pendolino trains between April and December 2012, as well as four new trains.
The agreement is based on a forecast of 11% year-on-year growth. Work on introducing longer and new trains is not due to complete until December 2012, with the full benefits not being realised until the start of the new replacement franchise starting on 9 December 2012.
Virgin said on Thursday: "The deal, which covers any shortfall on DfT revenue targets through an 80% revenue support agreement or any excess through an 80% revenue share, will see Virgin Rail Group make a premium payment to the Government for the eight months. The new trains and carriages will add 150 extra seats to the 294 Standard seats currently on each of these trains. First Class accommodation will remain the same as now. In addition, it is planned to commission four new 11-carriage trains into the Pendolino fleet next year, each providing almost 600 seats per train in Standard and First Class."
The first of the extra Italian-built Alstom carriages are set to be introduced in spring 2012.