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Transport Secretary faces rail fiasco quiz

A Government minister and his department boss will face a grilling from MPs today over the West Coast rail franchise fiasco.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin Credit: David Jones/PA Wire

Members of the House of Commons Transport Committee will be armed with a damning initial report into what Labour has described as a "shambles" of a bidding process.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Department for Transport (DfT) permanent secretary Philip Rutnam will have to explain why the DfT went ahead with the West Coast bidding competition knowing the process was flawed.

Mr McLoughlin will also be asked why he told MPs on his first appearance before the committee in September that he was happy with the bidding process only for him to scrap the entire West Coast refranchising process a few weeks later.

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Branson had 'been in dialogue' with Government before rail decision

Sir Richard Branson has denied claims from the Transport Secretary Justine Greening that he only raised concerns over the West Coast main line rail franchise after Virgin lost the bid.

In a letter to the Financial Times, Sir Richard wrote:

The truth is we did and have been in dialogue with the Department for Transport for more than two years on the issues around the invitation to tender.

Furthermore, we had expressed our views to the Conservatives in several meetings while they were in opposition.

In particular, we focused on the assessment and deliverability of risks involved in such long and volatile franchises, as well as seeking assurances on our long held view that bids were typically won by aggressive revenue commitments from bidders relying on good spreadsheet skills rather than good rail business sense.

Britain's privatised railways a 'gigantic scam'

Seamus Milne writes in today's Guardian that renationalisation of the railway system could be the right way to go.

The solution could not be more obvious. It's to rebuild a publicly owned and integrated railway. That can be done at zero or minimal cost, by bringing back each franchise into public ownership as the contracts expire.

– Seamus Milne, the Guardian

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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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