Virgin asks Angel to get it rolling

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Virgin Rail is in discussions to draft in Angel, the privatised rail leasing company, to assist with the procurement of the country's biggest ever rolling stock order.

Industry sources say Angel will be invited to join a dedicated rail procurement team that Virgin is establishing in readiness for an pounds 800m order to refit its fleets serving the West Coast main line and Cross Country franchises.

A Virgin spokesman said: "We are in talks with Angel and believe it has expertise to offer in the procurement arena."

However, the spokesman stressed that Angel's involvement in procurement would not give it any advantage in the final leasing deal, which will be put out to tender.

"There will be open competition for the final overall financial package," the spokesman said.

However, one industry source said that while all the rail leasing companies would be free to tender, it was unlikely that the deal will be won by a single company.

"Virgin has been extremely innovative so far and with such a big order it is more likely that a rather different kind of grouping than a conventional leasing company will be successful," he said.

A new consortium could be formed which may include the train operator, the manufacturer, rail leasing company and financial institutions. Invitations from manufacturers to tender for the order are expected this summer, with final completion of the deal - including the financing - to be in place in the first half of next year.

So far, around 10 manufacturers are thought to be interested in bidding for the Virgin order, which is set to include a variety of locomotives and integrated rolling stock, which will serve the two franchises the company operates.

Two-thirds of the order will be for the West Coast Main Line and will feature the tilting trains that Virgin plans to use to cut journey times dramatically. The journey from London to Glasgow, which currently takes over five hours, could be done in under four hours with the new trains.