Italian rail operator handed four-year extension to HS2 contract

Italy’s state rail operator will spearhead the running of HS2 rail services for at least four years longer than -previously disclosed, Government -filings reveal. Trenitalia, which already runs express services between London, Manchester and Glasgow[1] alongside British operator FirstGroup, has had its contract extended until October 2032, with indications this could be extended even further by the Government. Terms in the joint venture’s contract have also been changed to confirm that they will run HS2 trains rather than plan for the disruption caused by the building of the near-GBP100bn line[2] on their current services.

The previous contract was due to expire in April 2028. Trenitalia and FirstGroup were handed control of the West Coast main line in December 2019, taking over from Virgin Trains, which had run the line for two decades. The Italian firm’s expertise in running high-speed -services at home was a crucial requirement during the tender process.

Italian firm Trenitalia currently runs the West Coast Mainline between London and Scotland with Aberdeen-based transport company First GroupCredit: PA

Boris Johnson remains under pressure from some Conservative backbenchers to scrap the controversial rail link.

But others in the North East are urging him to press ahead. While observers believe it is unlikely that the western leg will be axed, significant doubts remain over the running of the GBP32bn eastern spur to Sheffield and Leeds[3]. HS2 was originally designed with a “Y” shape providing high-speed links to London from both sides of the -Pennines.

But the eastern part has yet to be finally agreed, despite historical commitments from Government ministers that it will go ahead. The National Infrastructure Commission, headed up by the Government’s large building projects adviser Sir John Armitt, has called on ministers to prioritise regional rail services over the eastern leg. The final decision on the eastern leg is expected to be made as part of the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn.

A spokesman for Avanti said: “We welcome the Department for Transport’s Prior Information Notice which reaffirms that the duration of the West Coast Partnership’s National Rail Contract will be up to 10 years, to October 2032. We look forward to working with the DfT on the new contract, which will be customer-centric and with an appropriate balance of risk and reward for all parties.” A government spokesman said: “Our Williams-Shapps plan for rail will create a truly passenger focused railway.

A key step towards that is moving train operators onto new rail contracts which will deliver more punctual, reliable services.

The department has made no final decisions with regards to the length of the contract at this stage.”

References

  1. ^ runs express services between London, Manchester and Glasgow (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  2. ^ building of the near-GBP100bn line (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  3. ^ significant doubts remain over the running of the GBP32bn eastern spur to Sheffield and Leeds (www.telegraph.co.uk)