FirstGroup franchise win undermines HS2 case

As widely expected, FirstGroup have been awarded the contract to run WCML services, rather than existing franchise holder Virgin Trains.

FirstGroup’s chief executive Tim O’Toole said “Our bid also delivers value for taxpayers by returning premiums to the government underpinned by sustainable growth in passenger numbers and revenues from the utilisation of significant available capacity.”

It’s interesting to see how this ties in with the Department for Transport’s insistence that HS2 is necessary because of lack of capacity on the current WCML.

Following on from last year’s passenger survey, which showed that peak hour long distance services from Euston only had 56% passenger loadings, the Dft have refused Freedom of Information requests to disclose the official loading numbers. The Dft claimed that due to the WCML franchise bid, this information was commercially sensitive. Now that the bid has been completed there can be no more concerns on their part about revealing the data.

In addition, FirstGroup plan to speed up train times between London and Glasgow by 15 minutes, again cutting into the case for HS2.

By awarding this bid to FirstGroup the Dft is undermining the case for HS2. And if, as some commentators are suggesting, the passenger numbers aren’t there, the case for HS2 collapses completely.

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7 comments on “FirstGroup franchise win undermines HS2 case
  1. i really think you are clutching at straws if you can somehow conclude that the new franchise proves hs2 isnt needed as it actually proves the opposite. the reason that hs2 is due to be completed in 2026 is because that is when it has been calculated that congestion will be severe and whether you take dft’s or hs2s or virgins or firsts expected passenger numbers this can be seen to be an extremely likely scenario.

    on a related matter, the airline lobby also believes that their passenger numbers will increase substantially and that there is not much remaining capacity for growth without further runways or indeed airports. with the weight of all this evidence i dont know how stophs2 can really believe that the demand for travel wont grow as much.

  2. So now we know that wcml has tremendous capacity and that we are going to subsidise more and more leisure travellers to use it so that we all have to borrow 32 billion for an ultra high speed non stop inter city line.
    Surely I’ve got it wrong??

    • So- I wonder who is right…and if First Group’s take over remains unchallenged, can they ever make good their promises..? (Don’t forget that extra billion they bid)

      A year on year 9% increase in passenger numbers would be difficult to maintain throughout the period of the franchise – and would be derided if it was to be claimed in support of HS2 .

      “Congestion” and “Capacity” Are First Group right to say there is spare capacity- or were Virgin and Network Rail correct when they claimed otherwise?

      And does Capacity refer to the train or the track?

      The 11 coach Pendolino- as long as can be accommodated on the line -can travel at up to 125mph and could run at 140, its design speed, -but not if it’s stuck on a two track section behind a late running “all stations” to New St. regardless of how many seats are occupied.

      When Virgin introduced its High Frequency service there were complaints that stopping trains and local services lost out in favour of the fast non stop trains.

      If trains run at different speeds along the same route, then obviously extra tracks need to be provided . Otherwise it means delay and under use of train “paths”.

      *The new franchise begins on my 72nd birthday, December 9th. Which of us will last longer, I wonder?*

  3. Hi Penny,

    Did you have that headline ready with Virgin and First Group inserted, ready, with identical text below, just in case?

    According to STOPHS2, it now seems that any significant public announcement related to the Classic Line Network undermines the case for HS2!

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