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Premium economy to be launched on Britain’s railway

UK News | Published:

Avanti West Coast is developing plans to introduce a middle tier between standard class and first class.

Avanti West Coast took over from Virgin Trains on Sunday (Avanti West Coast/PA)

Three classes of travel are to be offered on Britain’s domestic railway for the first time in decades.

Avanti West Coast, which replaced Virgin Trains on the West Coast Main Line on Sunday, is developing a premium economy-style offering.

Trains running on Britain’s mainline railway currently only have standard class or first class.

But passengers who want an upgrade without buying the most expensive tickets will be able to obtain an enhanced service once Avanti West Coast finalises its plans.

The extra class is likely to be introduced once the Pendolino carriages the firm inherited from Virgin Trains are refurbished. The first revamped train is expected to return to service by early autumn 2020.

It is not known how much the middle tier of fares would cost.

Avanti managing director Phil Whittingham, who previously held the same role at Virgin Trains, said: “We know there is going to be three classes. It is going to be a first class, a premium economy-type style and economy.”

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He said passengers in premium economy could be entitled to “the bigger seat, better wi-fi and snacks rather than a meal”.

Matthew Gregory, chief executive of FirstGroup, which joint-owns the franchise with Italian firm Trenitalia, said the change in policy is “about balancing and being flexible within the train”.

He went on: “Obviously first class can be quite expensive, so there are different price points between standard class and first class and it is about seeing if we can offer a more flexible offering that suits more price points.”

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Third-class rail travel was abolished in Britain in 1956 and renamed second class before later being branded standard class.

FirstGroup reportedly considered introducing three classes on west coast services in its ill-fated 2012 bid for the franchise.

A year later, the Department for Transport was forced to deny it was planning to require a “third-class service” to be introduced on the East Coast Main Line, after a three–tier system was included in a leaked franchise prospectus ahead of a return to private ownership.

Rail expert Mark Smith, founder of Seat61.com, told the PA news agency: “When it comes to intercity travel, there does seem to be scope for having some extra classes, but it depends what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.”

Cross-Channel rail operator Eurostar offers three classes of travel.

The middle class, named Standard Premier, entitles ticket holders to a larger seat where they are served a light meal and drinks.

Trenitalia has four classes on its high-speed Frecciarossa trains.

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