Virgin Trains announces free WiFi for millions of passengers on its West Coast route
  • Investment comes as part of new franchise deal with Government
  • Customers will also benefit from a range of additional improvements
Virgin Trains customers on the West Coast will see a significant improvement in on-board WiFi later this year. All 56 Pendolino trains will undergo a refit which will vastly improve the on-board equipment, and allow free WiFi to be extended to all Pendolino customers.

The £7.5m investment is part of a new deal agreed with the Government, which will see Virgin Trains continue to run the West Coast franchise through to at least 31st March 2019, with the option for up to a further one-year extension at the Department for Transport’s discretion. The existing franchise expires on 31st March 2018, and the new contract will bridge the gap between the existing franchise and the new West Coast Partnership, due to start on 1st April 2019.

Installation of the WiFi upgrade is planned to begin on the Pendolino fleet from May 2018, with the work expected to be completed by January 2019, when free WiFi will be extended to all Pendolino customers. More than 85% of our customers travel on Pendolinos. In addition, the new technology is ‘future-proofed’ so it will work with 5G mobile phone networks as they come on stream and offer further speed improvements. The upgrade will also unlock the ability to offer more technology-led improvements in the future, all of which will increase customer satisfaction.

Welcoming the new deal, Phil Whittingham, Managing Director of Virgin Trains on the West Coast commented: “Virgin Trains has led the industry for more than two decades, and I’m delighted that we have secured a new contract to continue operating on the West Coast. The investment will see a big improvement in our on-board WiFi, and follows our industry-leading innovations such as automatic delay-repay and free films and TV on board via our Beam app. 
“I’m pleased that we’ll be able to offer almost all of our customers access to the improved WiFi for free. We know WiFi is a top priority for our customers and I’m sure they’ll welcome the upgrades to both speed and availability.”

In addition to the WiFi improvements on board, Virgin Trains will also investigate eliminating ‘not-spots’, or places without mobile phone coverage, on parts of its network. The route taken by the west coast mainline sees a large number of these ‘not-spots’ as trains pass through cuttings and tunnels, and where there is no mobile phone coverage there is also no WiFi available. This work, together with the WiFi improvements, will allow customers to work more effectively on our trains, securing increased economic benefits for the UK.

Other initiatives included in the new contract are:

  • All station ticket machines upgraded to accept contactless payment.
  • More than £3m to improve station and on-board environments, including additional seating at stations and improved toilets, lighting and carpets on board.
  • Additional staff at stations during busy times to improve accessibility.
  • Better customer information during disruption through improved customer contact system.
  • New apprenticeship opportunities, including for train driver roles.

The new contract will allow Virgin Trains to build on twenty years of success on the West Coast. Highlights include:

  • Almost tripling journey numbers from 14m a year to more than 37m.
  • Consistently topping the long distance franchised sector for passenger satisfaction
  • Hitting record punctuality levels.
  • Leading the industry with technology – automatic compensation for delays, free on board films and television programmes, and mticketing.
  • Introducing services every twenty minutes between London and Birmingham / Manchester, and in the process virtually eliminating flights between Manchester and the capital.
  • Paying nearly half a billion pounds (£476m) to taxpayers for the last three complete financial years.

The invitation to tender for the new West Coast Partnership is expected to be issued shortly. Virgin Trains is short-listed to bid for this franchise, with the bidding partnership consisting of Stagecoach (50%), SNCF (30%) and Virgin (20%).