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Calls to re-nationalise West Coast Main Line

Rail campaigners say re-nationalising the railways is the most popular option Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Rail campaigners will stage protests today to press for the renationalisation of the West Coast Main Line following the fiasco over who will run the franchise.

Union officials, passengers and activists will stage demonstrations at train stations including Warrington, Lancaster and Bolon, as the Government prepares to announce whether Virgin will continue to run services along the route.

The Government decided that Virgin had lost its franchise to First Group, but suddenly announced earlier this month that the process will start again because of flaws in evaluating previous bids.

Transport Secretary Partick McLoughlin is set to make an announcement early next week amid speculation that Virgin will be given an 18 month extension to keep its services running, rather than the route being handed over to state-owned Directly Operated Railways (DOR) from December 9.

The West Coast line connects the North West with London and Scotland and is a vital lifeline for the region.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union said: "In light of the West Coast fiasco it would be an absolute disgrace if the most popular option, public ownership, was ignored.

"Opinion polls and online surveys now show that between 70% and 90% of the British people support full renationalisation of the railways.

"It's not the evaluation or the franchising model that's wrong, it's the whole greed-driven, free-for-all of privatisation that has brought Britain's railways to their knees and turned us into a global laughing stock.

"Some shabby little whitewash of a Government review that doesn't examine the cheaper and more efficient model of public ownership would doom us to repeat the failures on the West Coast time and time again until the political class wake up to reality."

Frances O'Grady, general secretary designate of the TUC and chairman of the Action for Rail campaign group, said the East Coast Main Line, which is currently being run by DOR, showed that publicly operated railways could be more efficient and deliver better value for money.

The group claimed that train operators made a £2.7 billion gain from taxpayers last year after receiving £3.8 billion worth of public subsidies and paying £1.1 billion in premium costs.

"These figures show the true nature of our privatised railways - a system of corporate welfare where train operators make a play of bidding for contracts knowing that their future revenue is underwritten by the taxpayer.

"The franchising process is fundamentally flawed and unsustainable. Instead of allowing public subsidies to end up in the pockets of shareholders the Government should be using this money to invest in services that put passengers first," said Ms O'Grady.

A Virgin Spokesman told ITV Granada his company paid more back to the Treasure than it received in subsidies.

He said last year the company, which is owned by Richard Branson, received £47m from tax payers, but gave back £215m, representing a £168m boost for the Government.**

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