Mr Matthew Gregory, CEO of First Group, and Mr Orazio Iacono, managing director of Trenitalia, were joined by Italian Ambassador to Britain, Mr Raffaele Trombetta, Mr Gianfranco Battisti, CEO of Italian State Railways (FS), Mr Steve Montgomery, managing director of First Rail and Mr Ernesto Sicilia, managing director of Trenitalia UK, to name one of the operator’s 56 Pendolino trains Pride and Prosperity. The train features the operator’s new livery and departed Euston at 10.25, travelling to Rugby, Coventry, Birmingham International, Stafford, Crewe, Preston, Carlisle, Motherwell and Glasgow.

WCP is a 70:30 Anglo-Italian joint venture and will operate the franchise for the next 10 years. The franchisee is set to refurbish the Pendolino fleet to “as new condition” with the goal of substantially improving capacity on the network.

Improvements include installing 22,000 new seats, offering more reliable Wi-Fi and power sockets for all passengers. The operator will introduce 263 extra services every week, and 40 additional services every weekday by 2022, offering new service including doubling the frequency between Liverpool Lime Street and London Euston, although precise plans have yet to be confirmed. The operator is also set to replace the diesel Voyager fleet with 10 new seven-car EMUs and 13 five-car bi-mode trains ordered from Hitachi last week.

Speaking to IRJ onboard the special train, Sicilia said the operator has plans to introduce three levels of service - standard, premium and business - on its trains as the upgraded and new fleet is introduced with the plans set to take shape over the next six months. The offer is similar to the four levels of service offered on Trenitalia’s Frecciarossa trains but without the executive service which Sicilia says there is little market for in Britain due to the high overall cost of fares.

Other improvements include simplifying the fare structure by introducing Trenitalia’s Pico platform, and changes in onboard catering. Sicilia says WCP has agreements with Marks and Spencer’s and Italian coffee brand Ille. The franchise is also set to refurbish the stations it manages on the network, with refreshed waiting rooms, improved customer facilities, expanded car parks and greater accessibility for passengers with additional travel needs. Sicilia says the operator will work to improve its last-mile offer and is set to develop a plan for Mobility as a Service (MaaS) as well as offer loyalty programmes for regular customers. Compensation will available to passengers if trains are delayed by 15 minutes or more.

As well as Avanti West Coast, WCP is overseeing the West Coast Partnership Development, which will act as the shadow operator for future high-speed rail services on HS2. The group will design, develop and mobilise operations for the new line, working with HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport.

Sicilia says Trenitalia’s experience of operating Italy’s high-speed network and serving 350 million passengers over the last 10 years will serve the company well as plans for HS2 take shape. He said the delay to the project will offer the company more time and flexibility on the project.

First and Trenitalia founded the joint venture in 2017. Trenitalia already operates C2C, the Essex Thameside franchise which offers commuter services between London Fenchurch Street, Southend, and Shoebuyness.

“C2C has been like a gym for us,” Sicilia says. “A lot of what we have learnt here helped us with our bid for the West Coast. Without that experience it would have been very difficult to get the contract.”

First and Trenitalia take over from Virgin Trains, which operated the service for 22 years.