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FirstGroup is to take over the running of the West Coast mainline train route, connecting London Euston to Glasgow Central, from December.

Along with Italian firm Trenitalia, FirstGroup said the route would pave the way for an era of high-speed rail.

First Trenitalia replaces Virgin Trains, which was barred from bidding to keep the route.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the bid was part of a shift to a new model for rail.

Mr Shapps said the partnership was supported by Keith Williams, who has been commissioned to look at changes to the rail franchising system and who has told the BBC that government involvement should be limited to overall policy and budget decisions.

The transport secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was a “new type of contract, the idea here is that the risk is shared so that when it comes to the changes that Keith Williams has proposed this is fully compliant with it.

“We need them [the rail companies] paid for running the blooming trains on time and not for doing a bunch of other things. And that’s what this new contract on the West Coast is about.”

The new partnership will operate in two phases. The first will run from 8th December to March 2026, when First Trenitalia will operate the existing InterCity West Coast services. The second phase will run from March 2026 to March 2031, when it will operate the HS2 high-speed rail service.

Mr Shapps will tell MPs about the timescale and terms of reference of review of HS2 by Douglas Oakervee – a former chairman of the high-speed network – in “due course”.

It said its 56 Pendolino trains would be completely refurbished, with more reliable free Wi-Fi and better catering. By 2022, it says, it will offer more than 260 extra services each week, increasing seat miles by more than 10% compared with 2017-18. This will cost £117m, the Department for Transport said.