Taxpayers' £50m West Coast bill

Taxpayers will face a "significant" bill of around £50m over the West Coast rail franchise fiasco, the Government's spending watchdog has warned.

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DfT: We expect to sign the contract soon

A Department for Transport spokesman has said that the new West Coast franchise contract awarded to FirstGroup will be signed soon.

Earlier, Virgin Trains announced it had started court proceedings over the Government's decision.

We are confident our process is robust and that the decision was absolutely the right one for tax payers and passengers.

We expect to sign the contract soon.

– Department for Transport spokesman

It is unclear whether Virgin action will delay West Coast contract signing

Virgin Trains' legal challenge is an application for a judicial review of the decision to award FirstGroup, the West Coast main line contract.

The firm lodged papers at the High Court in London today and a hearing will be held at the court in due course.

It is unclear if this means the final signing of the franchise contract by the Transport Secretary Justine Greening - which is expected tomorrow - will now be delayed pending the outcome of the hearing.

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Summary: The West Coast franchise row

Transport company FirstGroup, which already has a number of rail franchises including Great Western and ScotRail, will start operating the London to Scotland West Coast line in December.

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson reacted angrily to the decision, branding the bidding process "insane" and threatening to end all involvement with the railways.Today, Virgin, which has operated the West Coast line since 1997, said it was "commencing court proceedings" over the Government decision.

FirstGroup: 'We have every confidence in the DfT's process

We understand that Virgin Rail Ltd a subsidiary of Virgin Rail Group, a the joint venture between Virgin Group and Stagecoach Group plc, has brought a legal challenge against the Department for Transport in relation to the recent award of the InterCity West Coast rail franchise to FirstGroup.

We have every confidence in the DfT’s process which is rigorous, detailed and fair and in which bids are thoroughly tested. There has been no complaint about the process, which was carefully described in advance, until Virgin Rail Group had lost commercially.

Our focus is to ensure a smooth transition with continuity for staff and passengers alike. We want to get on with delivering the many benefits and improvements we are offering without delay or disruption.

We will continue to prepare for a successful start up of the new franchise on 9 December 2012.

– FirstGroup
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