New West Coast Main Line franchise to be signed today

Virgin Trains
Virgin Trains have operated the West Coast Main Line since 1997. Credit: Clara Molden / PA Wire

The new contract for the West Coast main line franchise could be signed today. The Government has awarded the contract to FirstGroup after it bid more than £1 billion more than Virgin Trains.

However, the outgoing company is trying to bring about a last minute change of heart, with its boss, Sir Richard Branson, offering to run the service for free while it is scrutinised by Parliament.

Opposition MPs are calling for a debate at Westminster, which returns from its recess next week.

Despite the calls, a spokesman for the Department for Transport indicated that the agreement was set to be signed today saying, "The winning bidder was decided by a fair and established process and no reason has been advanced to convince DfT not to sign the agreement."

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Branson says PM must intervene in West Coast Main Line row

The Virgin boss has offered to effectively run the route for free to allow the decision awarding the 13-year franchise to FirstGroup to be re-examined.