FirstGroup will operate train services on the West Coast Main Line from December 8, taking over from Virgin Trains.

FirstGroup and Italian firm Trenitalia will run the line between London Euston and Glasgow with the new partnership described as a "new model for rail".

The partnership promises to bring new seats, additional luggage space and improved toilet facilities, and more direct connections.

The railway line, which calls at Watford Junction, has been operated by Virgin Trains since 1997 but the company was not allowed to bid for the route again due to a row over pensions.

The new partnership will operate in two phases.

The first will run from December 8 to March 2026, when First Trenitalia will operate the existing InterCity West Coast services. The second phase will run from March 2026 to March 2031, when it will operate the HS2 high-speed rail service.

The number of direct services between London and Liverpool will be doubled to two per hour, subject to approval from the Office of Rail and Road.

Under the terms of the new agreement, First Trenitalia will operate 263 additional weekly services every week from December 2022.

Twenty-three new trains will be used for the extra services to the North West, while the existing Pendolino fleet will be given a £117 million refurbishment, including new seats, additional luggage space and improved toilet facilities.

FirstGroup chief executive Matthew Gregory said the contract offers a "more appropriate balance of risks and rewards for us as operators" compared with traditional franchises.

He added that, under the first phase of the deal from December 2019 to March 2026, the firm will earn returns on "significant investments in services and facilities" but this will be protected by a "much improved revenue risk-sharing mechanism".

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the award of the contract is supported by Keith Williams, who is leading a Government-commissioned review into the railway.

He said: "This award is positive news for passengers, with more services, more direct connections and ambitious plans for a cleaner, greener railway, and also represents a decisive shift towards a new model for rail."

In a statement today, Virgin Trains said: "We have led the industry for 22 years, delivering faster journeys to more destinations, harnessing new technology and always putting our customers first.

"We’ll now work with First Trenitalia to ensure a seamless handover for our customers, who should still book and travel as normal."