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Branson invited to put Virgin's West Coast case to MPs

Sir Richard Branson boarding a Virgin train. Photo: Clara Molden/PA Wire

Sir Richard Branson has been invited to put his case for retaining Virgin Trains' West Coast main line franchise, which runs through the North West, to MPs.

At a hearing next Monday, the House of Commons Transport Committee will also take evidence from Tim O'Toole, the chief executive of transport company FirstGroup.

Sir Richard has launched a legal challenge to the Government's decision to award a new West Coast franchise to FirstGroup - thus ending Virgin's 15-year running of the London to Scotland line.

Having been beaten in the bidding for the new 13-year franchise, Sir Richard issued a strongly-worded statement, describing the bidding process as "insane" and "flawed".

Mr O'Toole has countered by saying that FirstGroup's plans for the line, with improved services, and more seats, are deliverable.

Earlier this week the Government announced that due to Virgin's legal challenge the West Coast contract with FirstGroup had not yet been signed.

Rail Minister Theresa Villiers, now Northern Ireland Secretary following the Government reshuffle, said the legal challenge would be "defended robustly".

Before the legal challenge, House of Commons Transport Committee chairman Louise Ellman MP had called for a delay to the signing of the contract so her committee could look into the franchise award which, she said, "had raised a number of concerns".

But Mrs Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, said she had "no fixed view on the matter and no preference for any of the bidders".