Virgin to run West Coast line

Rail operator Virgin has been asked to continue running the West Coast Main Line for another 9-13 months. The Government's temporary fix comes after its u-turn over the award of a new franchise to First Great Western earlier this month.

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Government: West Coast mess is 'deeply regrettable'

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has apologised for the continuing uncertainty over the future of the West Coast Main Line as he confirmed plans for Virgin to remain as temporary operator.

The cancellation of the InterCity West Coast franchise is deeply regrettable and I apologise to the bidders involved and the taxpayer who have a right to expect better.

My priority now is to fix the problem and the first step is to take urgent action to ensure that on the 9 December services continue to run to the same standard and passengers are not affected.

I believe Virgin remaining as operator for a short period of time is the best way to do this and my officials and I will be working flat out to make this happen.

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Bidding process to run alongside Virgin extension

The current franchise agreement with Virgin Rail Group expires on December 9. Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

The Department of Transport has confirmed it will "negotiate with Virgin Rail Group" for them to continue to operate rail services on the West Coast Main Line for a "short period" of nine to 13 months.

During the period, an open competition will be run for an "interim franchise agreement".

The interim agreement will then run until the new long term West Coast franchise is ready to start. The Department added: "The government believes that this is the best way to ensure services are maintained and that there is no impact on passengers."

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FirstGroup CEO defends West Coast mainline bid

FirstGroup chief executive Tim O'Toole refuted claims made by Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson today over the company having "cash issues", despite being offered the rail franchise bid.

Mr O'Toole told the House of Commons Transport Committee that the allegations Virgin had made were "flat wrong". He said:

No, we don't have a cash problem. We have steadily played down debt. This year we have pointed out that cash will be flat... but we believe cash flows will return to what they were.

I don't think there is any chance of our handing back the keys. Absolutely there is a risk. There is a risk in any venture of this kind.

Virgin boss: 'FirstGroup bid is preposterous'

The Department for Transport (DfT) did not follow its own rules over the West Coast main line franchise bidding process, Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson told MPs today.

Sir Richard said Virgin was recommending that the current rules and regulations for franchise should be completely reviewed and the award of a new West Coast franchise should be delayed until the review is complete. He continued:

The DfT did not follow their own rules. The franchise system is flawed. This bid by FirstGroup is absolutely preposterous. It's completely ridiculous. It's taking the system for a ride.

Sir Richard Branson: 'A bad decision will impact the UK'

Sir Richard Branson told the House of Commons Transport Committee that awarding the West Coast mainline to FirstGroup would be "bad for the country".

Sir Richard Branson gives evidence at the House of Commons.

He said that the Government had accepted a "risky bid" over a more "deliverable and financially robust" business. Sir Richard Branson said:

"If it is allowed to stand, it will be bad for the country, bad for passengers on the West Coast mainline and bad for passengers on other franchises. A bad decision will impact the UK".

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