1. ITV Report

Branson blasts franchise bid system

Sir Richard Branson promoting Virgin Trains Photo: PA

Sir Richard Branson threatened to walk away from the rail industry today after Virgin Rail today lost its West Coast main line franchise to rival transport company FirstGroup.

Sir Richard said he was "extremely disappointed" that the Department for Transport (DfT) had preferred FirstGroup to Virgin which had run the London to Scotland West Coast line since 1997.

Sir Richard added: "Based on the current flawed system, it is extremely unlikely that we would bid again for a franchise."

FirstGroup, which already runs a number of franchises including Great Western and ScotRail promised cheaper fares, more services and improved stations.

But Sir Richard said bankruptcy had hit former East Coast main line operators GNER and National Express who had "overbid" for the East Coast franchise.

He went on: "Sadly, the Government has chosen to take that risk with FirstGroup and we only hope they will continue to drive dramatic improvements on this line for years to come without letting everybody down."

Sir Richard added that this was the fourth time Virgin had been outbid in a franchise tender process.

He went on: "On the past three occasions, the winning operator has come nowhere close to delivering their promised plans and revenue, and has let the public and country down dramatically

"GNER and National Express over promised in order to win the franchise and spectacularly ran into financial difficulties in trying to deliver their plans. The East Coast is still in Government ownership and its service is outdated and underinvested, costing passengers and the country dearly as a result.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. When will the Department for Transport learn?"

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