Transport unions have hit out at Virgins Trains after securing an extension deal to its West Coast Main Line franchise.
The leader of the TSSA rail union said Virgin Trains is "being rewarded for failure on the West Coast line" and argued that publicly-owned franchises "provide better value to both taxpayers and passengers".
"Ministers continue to ignore the lesson that publicly-owned East Coast has returned far more cash to the Treasury in the past five years than Virgin," he said.
Mick Cash, from the RMT union, has said Virgin Trains have "bullied themselves into a monopoly provider position" by "ignoring the public sector option".
"Rail franchising is a one-way ticket to the bank for greedy shareholders as these companies promise the earth and deliver just the bare bones in the interest of profit," he said.
Founder of Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson has taken to Twitter to welcome the "great news" of Virgin Trains securing an extension deal to its West Coast Main Line franchise.
Under the extension deal, West Coast services will continue until March 2017 and a number of "improvements" including increased capacity, new services and "superfast Wifi" will be unveiled.
Under the extension deal for Virgin Trains to continue running a West Coast service until March 2017, the operator plans for Shrewsbury to have two services in each direction Monday to Saturday and one service in each direction on Sunday.
Blackpool North is also expected to have one service in each direction Monday to Friday.
The company has also committed to working with Network Rail on improving journey times, including the remodeling of Carstairs junction in South Lancashire.
Virgin Trains executive chairman Patrick McCall said: "We're delighted to have reached a deal after some tough negotiations with the Department of Transport.
"It puts the problems of 2012 firmly behind us, and shows the clear benefits of a well-run franchise system."
Virgin is to pay £430 million to the Government, a 58% increase a year, over the course of the extended contract to continue running the West Coast service.
The franchise serves more than 30 million passengers a year and covers areas including London, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Strathclyde and Lothian.
Virgin said 21 trains will have one of their first class carriages converted to standard class, resulting in an increase of 2,100 seats per day.
It will also aim to start new direct services between Shrewsbury, Blackpool and London from December, boosting connections for passengers.
"The West Coast provides a vital artery between London and Scotland and it is crucial we do everything we can to improve services on this much-used route," Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said.
Virgin Trains promised to increase capacity on the West Coast mainline after securing a deal to continue running the franchise until March 2017.
The operator said there will be "significant improvements" for customers with the introduction of free superfast WiFi, more seats and new services.
Virgin Trains previously lost out to FirstGroup in the battle for a new 13-year West Coast franchise, but the process was scrapped by the Department for Transport due to errors in the bidding process.
Passengers hoping to board a Virgin Train today have been told to "abandon" their travel plans. In a series of tweets Virgin said customers already travelling would be left at the nearest station.
UPDATE: We are advising all customers not to attempt to travel. Customers already on services will be taken to the nearest station.
Virgin Trains has suspended all services north of Preston, and reported delays between Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly:
UPDATE: Due to the severe weather, all Virgin Trains services are suspended north of Preston until further notice. ^RM
Virgin Trains is advising that none of its services are running to or from Scotland, and that there are delays between London and Carlile:
UPDATE: Services are running, albeit delayed, between London to Carlisle. No services will operate to/from Scotland until further notice.
UPDATE: Due to severe weather conditions, all lines are currently blocked between Warrington Bank Quay and Wigan North Western.
A strong acidic odour that has troubled Virgin Trains for years has finally been traced to a design flaw in the tanks below the vehicles' toilets.
The tanks - which hold up to half a ton of waste - have their ventilation outlets positioned too close to the trains' air-conditioning inlets, meaning and unpleasant scent circulates around the carriages, The Sunday Times (£) reported.
Virgin, which plans to fix the problem as part of a £3.5m refurbishment programme, said: “Although toilet smells on our trains have attracted comment over the years, it’s worth setting that in context.
"The most recent National Passenger Survey showed satisfaction with our on-board toilet facilities significantly higher, 60%, than the average for long-distance operators, 52%.”
Virgin Trains has delayed the introduction of new uniforms after some female staff said blouses were see through and too low cut.
The rail operator is now offering £20 vouchers for women employees to buy undergarments to save them any embarrassment.
A union chief said staff had complained the red blouses were too flimsy and would allow male passengers to see dark bras being worn underneath.
"Our female members are upset because they feel Sir Richard Branson is cutting corners by asking them to wear flimsy blouses which are skimpy and they feel too revealing," said Manuel Cortes of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association.
"He has asked Vivienne Westwood to design the new uniform for his air crews. Unfortunately, by contrast, it looks like he is getting the blouses for train crews from Del Boy at Trotters Independent Traders Ltd at Peckham Market."
The problem came to light after trials of a new uniform for staff on Virgin's West Coast Main Line.