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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Virgin vows to continue 'excellent' West Coast service

Our customers have made clear they want us to continue our excellent service and we now have the chance to deliver that and offer customers some short-term continuity.

We will now be working hard to make sure we continue to provide the service that has made us successful. We are grateful for the fantastic support from customers and staff over recent months.

– Virgin Trains spokesman

FirstGroup responds to Virgin extension

FirstGroup, which had originally won the bidding for the West Coast Main Line before the Government's U-turn, has issued a statement after Virgin was offered an extension as the line's operator while the bidding is re-run.

The company makes no reference to Virgin, instead focusing on the future bidding for the line and, in particular, the findings of two independent reviews set up by the Department of Transport after the first West Coast franchise competition was halted.

We believe the private sector provides the most effective and efficient way to deliver passenger rail services in the UK. We await the outcome of the independent investigations into the West Coast franchise competition and the wider rail franchising process, which we hope will provide a greater degree of certainty and confidence not only to future bidders but to employees, stakeholders and the travelling public too.

– FirstGroup


RMT union attacks 'shabby' Virgin extension

The leader of the RMT transport union, Bob Crow, has attacked the Government's decision to extend Virgin's control of the West Coast Main Line while a franchise bidding process is run again.

The union wants the West Coast franchise to be run by the Department of Transport in the public sector as is the case, at the moment, with the East Coast franchise. Mr Crow said:

This announcement is no surprise. The Government are ideologically opposed to public ownership of the railways and, in collusion with the private train operators, have stitched up a shabby deal that will enable them to rerun the whole franchise fiasco in a year's time.

Richard Branson and his shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank. Not only have they made hundreds of millions from the rail privatisation lottery but they have now scooped the rollover as well.

Mr Crow added:

We will continue to fight for public ownership of the railways, a position supported by the vast majority of the British people. This short-term political fix will not detract from the call for rail to be run as a public service free from the chaos and greed of privatisation.

A timeline of the West Coast rail fiasco

  • In August, the Government announced Virgin had lost out to transport company FirstGroup in the bidding war to run a new 13-year West Coast franchise.
  • Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson reacted angrily to the decision, branding the bidding process "insane" and launching a legal challenge.
  • While preparing for the legal challenge, the Department of Transport discovered "significant technical flaws" in the franchise bidding.
  • Three civil servants are suspended as a result and the bidding competition is halted on October 3, crowning an embarrassing U-turn for the Government.
  • Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin tells a Commons Select Committee he was happy with the way the bidding had been conducted.
  • Virgin has today been offered an extension to run West Coast services for a "short period" of nine to 13 months while the bidding process is re-run.


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.

Bidding process to run alongside Virgin extension

Virgin train
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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