Virgin Trains To Boost West Coast Mainline
Virgin Trains has promised to boost rail service on the West Coast mainline network, after winning an extension to its franchise.
It said "significant improvements" would be brought in as part of the franchise continuation until March 2017.
The increases will include conversion of first class to standard seating, free super-fast Wi-Fi and new services.
Virgin previously lost the franchise to FirstGroup as part of a new 13-year West Coast contract.
However the award process was stopped by the Department for Transport (DfT) over irregularities in the bidding process.
The decision allowed Virgin to run the line on a temporary basis until November.
Virgin is to pay £430m to the Government during the new extended contact, at a rate of £155.3m a year.
That is a 58% increase on the £98.1m a year paid in the temporary contract.
The West Coast service carries more than 30 million passengers a year between London, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Strathclyde and Lothian.
The operator said 21 trains would have a first class carriage reconfigured to standard class, boosting seating capacity by 2,100 per day.
It also plans to launch a direct services between Shrewsbury, Blackpool and London before Christmas.
The Office of Rail Regulation has previously rejected an application by Virgin to run additional services because of limited capacity.
Virgin will fit 76 of its Pendolino and Super Voyager trains with 4G superfast Wi-Fi.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "This deal will provide thousands more seats and better journeys for the tens of thousands of passengers who use these services every day.
"The West Coast provides a vital artery between London and Scotland and it is crucial we do everything we can to improve services on this much-used route."
Virgin Trains executive chairman Patrick McCall added: "We're delighted to have reached a deal after some tough negotiations with the DfT.
"It puts the problems of 2012 firmly behind us, and shows the clear benefits of a well-run franchise system."