DfT rail deal official hits back

A senior Department of Transport official suspended over the mishandling of the West Coast Main Line rail franchise contract as hit out at her own department for "inaccurately portraying" her role and overstating her responsibility.

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Where did the Department for Transport go wrong?

The essence of any public procurement process is simple: it must be fair. That means stating clearly the criteria by which bids will be evaluated and applying those criteria rigidly .

It sounds simplistic but it looks like what the Department for Transport has done in this case is not weight its assessment of the risks involved in the way it should have done, with the result being an unfair advantage to First Group.

The fact that the Department is to re-run the whole competition rather than simply re-evaluating the two final bids (Virgin and First Group) suggests that the whole evaluation process was fundamentally compromised in a way that could not be readily put right.

– Patrick Twist, rail expert at international law firm Pinsent Masons

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Q&A on the rail deal

  • What has gone wrong? It seems it was not just a matter of the difference between Virgin's bid and that of FirstGroup but that all the bids from all four competing companies were not properly evaluated by officials.
  • What happens now? There are two reviews to look into what happened and, until they report, the bidding process for three other rail franchises has been put on hold.
  • What about FirstGroup, Virgin and the two other unlucky bidders? They are getting their bid costs back from the DfT. As usual the real losers here will be taxpayers.

Passengers paying 'sky-high fares for Whitehall farce'

This fiasco shows that the whole bidding process for private franchises is not fit for purpose. The DfT seems to be making it up as it goes along.

There should be not be two DfT inquiries into what went wrong on the West Coast bid but a full independent inquiry into the whole process which costs millions and leaves passengers with the highest rail fares in Europe.

They are paying sky-high fares for this long-running Whitehall farce.

– Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union

Rail announcement highlights 'weaknesses in the franchise'

This extraordinary announcement highlights the weaknesses in the franchise process. It's a process that puts finance first rather than passengers, but now it seems we can't even rely on the numbers for that.

The Government's review of franchises must now be used to look at how we can get rail services that meet passengers' needs and grow and improve our railway.

– Richard Hebditch, Campaign for Better Transport's campaigns director

Miliband hits out at West Coast 'fiasco'

Labour leader Ed Miliband told BBC Radio 5 Live that the West Coast Main Line decision is a "fiasco" which brought the Government's competence into question.

When you look at the latest fiasco with the West Coast Main Line - another Government screw-up, another Government mistake, another case of them blaming someone else, apparently they are saying it is the fault of their civil servants - I think competence is an issue.

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Twitter users pleased Virgin to keep contract

Timeline of West Coast rail franchise saga

  • 1997: Virgin Rail begins running the West Coast Main Line after being awarded a 15-year contract.
  • 2011: The Department for Transport (DfT) invites bids from companies interested in taking over the rail franchise from Virgin in December 2012.
  • Aug 15 2012: The DfT awards the franchise to FirstGroup. More than 150,000 people sign an online petition calling for the decision to be reconsidered.
  • Aug 27 2012: Labour and Sir Richard Branson urge the Government to delay signing the contract. The DfT says there is "no reason" to delay.
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