Regulator announces conclusions on future track access rights for the West Coast Main Line

2 March 2011

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has today confirmed it will approve track access rights for the new InterCity West Coast franchise, paving the way for improved services to passengers and more efficient use of capacity.

Following an extensive analysis of proposals for train services on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), the regulator will approve a 10 year track access contract for the new franchise, allowing existing West Coast services to continue, but with a contract that contains more flexible access rights than currently in place. The franchisee will be able to make service changes more easily, taking forward new ideas to improve passenger services, and providing greater value for money to the taxpayer.

ORR has not at this stage given the go-ahead to plans for services by new 'open access' operators on the route. But its approach does leave the door open for such services, provided they are not simply abstracting revenue from the franchise.

ORR chief executive Bill Emery said:

Our West Coast Main Line track access conclusions pave the way for the new franchisee on the route to introduce improved services for passengers and to make more efficient use of capacity. It also leaves the way open for the introduction of limited competition from new operators on the route, to complement the franchised services, and protects the interests of freight operators.

The regulator has also charged Network Rail to work with the rail industry and the new franchisee to develop plans for a revised WCML timetable to be implemented in stages from December 2013. This follows cross-industry work which showed that there is limited spare capacity on the line which can only be realised through a revised timetable.  

Notes to editors

  1. View ORR's WCML conclusions in full.
    • approved rights for 10 years for the DfT, on behalf on the new franchisee, to allow a continuation of the existing West Coast services, but with considerably less contractual specification than the incumbent franchisee has and for which it applied.
    • approved additional rights to extend some existing hourly Lancaster services onto Glasgow, but said it will not approve the additional 10 North West services until the further timetabling work has been completed.
    • approved London Midland's additional services between London Euston and Northampton, subject to a satisfactory timetabling solution being found, but refuse its application for extending a number of its services on to Liverpool as these would impact on the core WCML route.
    • refused Grand Central's application to run services from Euston to Blackpool, which, on the basis of the information provided, failed our not primarily abstractive test (the services as proposed would take business and revenue away from existing operators without adequate offsetting benefits). We will be discussing with Grand Central how it can take forward any revised application.
    • refused Alliance's application to operate services between Euston and Leeds/Bradford interchange/Blackpool and Carlisle. The application was not completed fully and did not provide sufficient information and data by the deadline for it to be considered. Alliance subsequently submitted a detailed submission in support of its application, but we were unable to consult on it for reasons of commercial confidentiality. We will be discussing with Alliance how it can take forward any revised application.
  2. West Coast track access conclusions announced today include:
  3. The Department for Transport consulted on the specification for the West Coast franchise in January 2011 and expects to put out a full invitation to tender for a new franchise in May 2011, to start operating in April 2012.