West Coast rail shambles due to take another three years to sort out

Virgin are to carry on running the West Coat Mainline for another year Photo: Press Association

In the next couple of hours the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, will speak to the House of Commons to try to explain what next for the West Coast Rail Line.

You wouldn't be blamed for finding the formula the Government has come up with to untangle the mess complicated in itself.

The Government is asking Virgin to carry on running the train line for another year, extending the contract that was due to run out on December 9.

Virgin is almost certain to accept their request, following negotiations, and its intention right now is to stick to its promise of giving any profits to charity or to developing renewable energy.

But while the Government carries out two different reviews, one into what went wrong in this process and one into the wider problems of rail franchises, there will be another two future bidding rounds.

During 2013 one contest will take place to run the line in 2014. Virgin is likely to bid for it, but it's another short term contract, which will run while a long term franchise competition gets underway.

That will be concluded only by 2015, when the winner of the bid to run the railway for over ten years will be announced.

There will not be any overnight changes for passengers.

But during the next three years users of the West Coast Line may well lose out.

Sources at Virgin suggest that some of plans for new services or modernising stations they had developed when bidding for the 15-year contract will be put on hold during the next couple of years.

Any company would be likely to put expensive big investments on hold without long-term certainty.

They won't be writing any big cheques to improve the West Coast if they may again lose the contract within a year.

By coming up with this complex timeline the Department of Transport is clearly trying to do its best to avoid expensive legal wrangles.

The bid mistakes have already cost the taxpayer £40 million. But it's a long way from fixing this fiasco - one railway line, one fudged bid, three more sets of negotations and three years to put it right.

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