Rail operator Virgin has been asked to continue running the troubled West Coast Main Line for another few months while a franchise bid is re-run, the Government has announced today.
The temporary fix has been proposed by the Department for Transport after its embarrassing U-turn over the award of the new franchise earlier this month.
Virgin's current franchise is due to end on December 9 but talks are under way about Sir Richard Branson's company remaining as operator while a competition is run for an interim franchise agreement.
The Department of Transport has confirmed it will "negotiate with Virgin Rail Group" for them to continue to operate West Coast services for a "short period" of nine to 13 months.
During the period, an open competition will be run for an "interim franchise agreement".
The interim agreement will then run until the new long term West Coast franchise is ready to start. The Department added: "The government believes that this is the best way to ensure services are maintained and that there is no impact on passengers."
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has apologised for the continuing uncertainty.
FirstGroup originally won the bidding for the West Coast line before the Government's U-turn.
Two independent reviews were set up by the Department of Transport after the first West Coast franchise competition was halted.
Responding to news of the Virgin extension, First Group said:
The leader of the RMT transport union, Bob Crow, attacked the Government's decision.
The union wants the West Coast franchise to be run by the Department of Transport in the public sector as is the case, at the moment, with the East Coast franchise. Mr Crow said: