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Scotland misses out on ‘Bullet trains’ for west coast

Hitachi trains will be introduced to west coast services

Scotland will miss out on a new fleet of West Coast rail ‘bullet trains’ after Aberdeen Standard Investments and Rock Rail agreed a £350 million financing deal.

Hitachi will supply 23 new intercity trains to the route which will be leased to new operator West Coast Partnership, a joint venture between First Group and Trenitalia.

First-Trenitalia will take over the franchise from this Sunday, operating intercity services as Avanti West Coast.

Based on bullet train technology, the fleet consists of 135 vehicles (10 seven-carriage electric trains and 13 five-carriage electric-diesel bi-mode trains) that will enter service from 2022 across one of the UK’s busiest rail lines.

However, the trains will operate between London, the West Midlands and Liverpool while the bi-mode version will serve the London to North Wales route. They will not cover the operation in Scotland which will be covered by other trains.

They will be quieter and greener than the diesel trains they replace and are expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 61% across the franchise.

The passenger travelling experience is set to be transformed, with numerous features including faster, free Wi-Fi throughout, advanced real time passenger information systems, at-seat wireless charging, plug sockets and USB slots, air conditioning and a brand-new catering offer. The trains will benefit from high acceleration and low dwell times along with significantly more seating capacity than their predecessors.

The units being procured will be built at Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe factory in north-east England supporting thousands of jobs across the UK supply chain.

This is the fourth new UK rolling stock deal that has seen ASI and Rock Rail join together as equity partners. Previous deals were for the financing and provision of new rolling stock for the Great Northern routes, East Anglia and South Western franchises. All four deals combined, represent a long-term investment by pension funds and insurance companies into the UK railway industry of just under £2.5 billion. 

As with ASI and Rock Rail’s previous new UK rolling stock deals, senior debt is provided by institutional investors with the funder group comprising of Aviva Investors (on behalf of Aviva Life & Pensions UK and other third party clients) and Sun Life Investments.

Dominic Helmsley, Head of Economic Infrastructure, Aberdeen Standard Investments, said the deal “solidifies ASI’s position as a major player in the funding of UK rolling stock. ASI’s equity funding of this core fleet of trains will help deliver a major upgrade to the services running from London Euston station both operationally and from an environmental perspective. 

“This transaction aligns with our goals to deliver safe and reliable essential infrastructure to local communities and we appreciate all the parties’ involvements and efforts. We are excited to build the next chapter of West Coast Partnership franchise along with our partners.”

Mark Swindell, chief executive at Rock Rail, said the trains will bring a “step change to the travelling experience”.

“The long term, highly competitive funding from leading pension fund and insurance institutions enables significantly enhanced value for money to rail passengers over the life of the trains along with significant improvements in passenger, operational and environmental features,” he said.

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