Government 'on brink' of giving the West Coast Main Line back to Branson, unions claim

The Government is on the brink of compounding the "shambles" of rail privatisation by giving an 18-month contract to Virgin to carry on running services on the West Coast Main Line, which connects London with cities in the West Midlands, the North West, north Wales and Scotland, the biggest rail workers' union has said.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said ministers were preparing to award Virgin a "pay as you go" contract after the fiasco over who will run the franchise.

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

The RMT warned that ministers were preparing to step into another legal and operational "quagmire" because of its ideological opposition to public ownership.

General Secretary Bob Crow said: "Once again the Department for Transport is leaking like a sieve, just as it did when First were awarded the West Coast Main Line in August, with briefings flying around that a short-term fix is on the cards to keep Richard Branson quiet and avoid the logical move to public ownership of the railways which the vast majority of the British people support.

"The Government stand on the brink of compounding the expense, instability and shambles that is rail privatisation on the basis of pure right wing ideology.

"It would appear that under EU law a management contract with Virgin is against procurement rules that can be conveniently ignored when it suits Government policy in favour of private greed.

"The legal battle may not be over yet but the future of our railways should not be decided by the wishes of First Group or Virgin's shareholders but by the wishes of the British people who support RMT's campaign for full renationalisation."

Transport Secretary Partick McLoughlin is set to make an announcement early next week amid increased 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.

Rail campaigners staged protests on Friday to press for the renationalisation of the West Coast Main