Wednesday, 15 August 2012

First Group CEO letter to ICWC stakeholders

This from Tim O'Toole...

I’m delighted to tell you that FirstGroup has been chosen by the Government to operate the InterCity West Coast rail franchise.  FirstGroup is the largest rail operator in the UK and has vast experience of operating a range of rail services.

We will begin operating services on 9 December and will run the franchise until 31 March 2026. The longer franchise period means we can invest £350m over the first five years in enhancing the service offered to customers, to realise the huge potential of the West Coast route - including 66 additional brand new vehicles, on top of the 106 extra vehicles currently being delivered this year.

Our plans for the service reflect its status as the UK's premier railway and through investment and innovation we are committed to delivering high quality customer services, with visible employees to assist and reassure, and maintaining and enhancing on-train catering.

We also want to offer value for money, and we will cut Standard Anytime fares by 15% on average.  We will introduce an improved compensation scheme for passengers who experience disruption to their journey from day one.

By 2016 we will deliver the following enhancements:

Timetable and trains
  • Transforming the on-board environment with a major refurbishment of Pendolino and Voyager interiors with new seats throughout and improved luggage space
  • Introducing 11 new 125mph six-car electric trains for Birmingham – Scotland services which will create 12,000 additional seats per day.  This is on top of the 28,000 new seats that will be provided by the additional 106 Pendolino carriages that are coming into service in time for the start of the new franchise.  This means there will be 40,000 extra seats by 2016, compared with 2011
  • Improved journey time of 15 minutes for trains between London and Glasgow
  • Introducing new direct services from London to Blackpool, Telford, Shrewsbury and Bolton providing a new direct link to the capital for more than 500,000 people
  • Doubling frequency of London to Preston services, and more capacity to Chester and North Wales
  • Improving connectivity with more stops at Nuneaton and Milton Keynes
  • Reliability and punctuality improvements to improve Public Performance Measure (PPM) to over 90% (from current level of 85.9%) through targeted investment and a new Alliance with Network Rail

Fares and ticketing
  • Reducing Standard Anytime fares by 15% on average
  • Installation of automatic ticket gates installation at 21 stations, including the major terminals of London Euston, Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime St and Glasgow Central
  • Investment in greater yield management capability to help grow demand with increased marketing and introduction of new customer loyalty programme

Enhanced customer offering and innovation
  • Smart ticketing introduced across the network
  • Free upgraded high speed Wi-Fi, and enhanced mobile phone coverage following train refurbishment
  • Enhanced catering service offered, with increased at seat catering for customers
  • Improved information systems including new customer mobile apps
  • Station investment includes improving accessibility, security and passenger information
  • Commitment to high quality service including a greater emphasis on customer facing staff on trains and at stations

We have also committed to improve customer satisfaction ratings, and to provide clear and comprehensive information about our performance on the franchise.

We understand the importance of the West Coast Main Line route, not only to the communities it serves, but because it links many of the major cities in the UK, supporting the economic development of the nation.  With the major infrastructure upgrade on the West Coast Main Line completed, and additional train capacity being provided this year, we believe there is huge potential to grow demand and improve service on this franchise. Our plans will encourage more people along the route to travel by rail rather than drive or fly, reducing environmental impacts.

The franchise will form a key part of our Rail division, headed by our MD UK Rail, Rail Vernon Barker OBE, who successfully led First TransPennine Express for many years.  As we prepare to launch our service at the end of the year, we will seek further opportunities to share our plans with you in more detail. If you have any questions in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact Richard Parry, our designate Managing Director for the new franchise.

We are privileged to be given the opportunity to serve the customers, cities, businesses and communities on this premier route, and look forward to working with you.  

Kind regards


Tim O'Toole
Chief Executive