There's a new train operator in town: FirstGroup and Trenitalia's Avanti West Coast service has accepted the gauntlet from Virgin West Coast (not that Virgin wanted to let go of the gauntlet). Here are a few things you might find useful about the new service running from Euston.
Why did the Virgin West Coast franchise end?
Virgin's joint venture partner, Stagecoach, was barred from bidding for the renewed franchise by the Department for Transport (DfT). The ban came about following a row over a pensions scheme for employees, and who should plug a £6bn deficit. Virgin Group rounder Richard Branson was apparently "devastated" at the news.
What do Avanti West Coast trains look like?
You're no longer looking out for the popping cherry red livery of Virgin's trains. The Avanti West Coast design is a dull green hue, with swooshes of white and very very very very very very dark blue. Some trains appear to have a bright yellow tip — others have black. The orange triangular logo, we're told, "represents the three geographic points of the 400-mile long West Coast Main Line that connects London with towns and cities across England, North Wales and Scotland." It's a tad unimaginative in our view, but there you go.
Are the Avanti West Coast trains new?
Nope, for now they're going to be the fleet of 56 Pendolino trains that Virgin had — refurbished with 25,000 fresh seats, more reliable Wi-Fi (we'll be the judge of that), and a power socket for every passenger. As Virgin train had a free on-board streaming service, so too does Avanti.
Will there be brand new trains in the future?
There will be, yes. The operator plans to run 263 more weekly services by 2022 — and as part of this, it says it'll replace the old diesel Voyager trains with 23 brand new, state-of-the-art Hitachi ones (£350m worth). These will travel up to 125mph, and be less noisy.
Where will these extra services go to?
Avanti West Coast has already said it wants to double the number of services between London and Liverpool (in 2022). There will be new destinations on the route too, including Llandudno in North Wales and Gobowen in Shropshire. Otherwise, trains will plough their usual furrow from London, up through the Midlands, then through north-west cities including Liverpool and Manchester — with the northernmost location as Glasgow. Avanti's timetables are available online — the winter schedule kicks in from 15 December.
What other goodies is Avanti West Coast promising customers?
'Improved on-board catering' and 'refreshed waiting rooms' are promised in the marketing material; we'll have to wait and see what that means exactly. Passengers will be glad to hear that fares will be 'simplified', with Avanti making it 'crystal clear... how to get the most value for money'. Although it's not yet crystal clear to us how Avanti will be making this crystal clear.
Something that does seem like a a straightforward boon: passengers can now compensation if trains are delayed by 15 minutes (it had previously been 30 minutes).
What does 'Avanti' mean?
It's Italian for 'Let's Go' or 'Forward'. Which makes somewhat more sense than 'Virgin' ever did on the side of a train. Avanti! is also an underrated Billy Wilder film starring Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills. The film has nothing to do with trains.