Ian McConnell

ABERDEEN-based transport company FirstGroup and partner Trenitalia have appointed two managing directors to lead the West Coast Main Line operation that they will take over running from Virgin Trains next month.

Steve Montgomery, who heads FirstGroup’s rail business, said these appointments of franchise bid leader Caroline Donaldson and Phil Whittingham, who has been managing director of Virgin Trains since 2013, “demonstrate our determination to deliver a range of improvements for InterCity West Coast passengers during the first phase of the partnership”.

He also declared that FirstGroup and Trenitalia were determined – as they take over the franchise that runs trains from Glasgow Central to London Euston and is now known as the West Coast Partnership – to “help deliver the railway of tomorrow”.

Mr Whittingham will be managing director of the InterCity West Coast business, running passenger rail services between London, the Midlands, north-west England, Scotland and north Wales.

Caroline Donaldson, who has been bid director at FirstGroup since 2010 and previously held senior roles at Network Rail and London Underground, will become managing director of West Coast Partnership Development. FirstGroup and Trenitalia noted this unit would provide design and development services to support the future operation of high-speed rail services between the north of the UK and London “in close collaboration with HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport”.

Flagging planned improvements, FirstGroup and Trenitalia said: “Passengers will benefit from a fleet of new intercity trains as well as the complete refurbishment of the existing Pendolino train fleet. There will be 263 more train services every week by 2022 with new routes added.”

They flagged their plans for enhanced free wifi, plug sockets, and 25,000 new seats. The partners added that, with effect from when they begin running the franchise on December 8, passengers would benefit from “improved passenger compensation”, available for journeys delayed by 15 minutes or more, compared with 30 minutes currently.