Third class travel returns as Avanti West Coast promises ‘premium economy’ tickets

Third class train travel is set to return to Britain for the first time since the 1950s as standard-tier is bumped down to make way for a ‘premium economy’ carriage with bigger seats.   

The new middle-way experience will allow passengers to treat themselves to an upgrade without having to fork out for the luxuries in first.

This extra class will be part of a souped-up service from Avanti West Coast which on Sunday replaced Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains on the West Coast Main Line.

Premium economy customers will enjoy larger seats, faster wifi and snacks, rather than the meal offered to those in first class.   

An artist's impression of how Avanti West Coast train will look, which will include a new 'premium economy' class

An artist's impression of how Avanti West Coast train will look, which will include a new 'premium economy' class

An artist’s impression of how Avanti West Coast train will look, which will include a new ‘premium economy’ class

This extra class will be part of a souped-up service from Avanti West Coast which on Sunday replaced Richard Branson's Virgin Trains on the West Coast Main Line

This extra class will be part of a souped-up service from Avanti West Coast which on Sunday replaced Richard Branson's Virgin Trains on the West Coast Main Line

This extra class will be part of a souped-up service from Avanti West Coast which on Sunday replaced Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains on the West Coast Main Line

Its introduction – likely to be in autumn 2020 when Avanti finishes refurbishing the Pendolino carriages inherited from Virgin – will bump standard class down to the third-tier of travel.  

It is not known how much premium economy tickets will 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.’

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.’

Britain's longest-running rail franchise, Virgin, came to an end on Saturday after more than 22 years

Britain's longest-running rail franchise, Virgin, came to an end on Saturday after more than 22 years

Britain’s longest-running rail franchise, Virgin, came to an end on Saturday after more than 22 years

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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