1. ITV Report

Virgin Rail loses West Coast main line franchise after 15 years

Virgin Rail has lost its West Coast main line franchise, including the route from Holyhead to Euston, the UK Government has announced.

The company has been operating the line for 15 years.

Transport company FirstGroup, which already has a number of rail franchises including Great Western and ScotRail, won the fight to take over a new 13-year West Coast franchise from December.

Announcing the new franchise winner, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers said it would deliver "big improvements for passengers, with more seats and plans for more services."

But the RMT transport union warned of "massive cuts to jobs and passenger services and huge increases in fares."

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, has issued a strongly-worded statement in which he says he's "extremely disappointed" with the decision, criticises the "flawed" franchise system and says it is "extremely unlikely" Virgin would bid again for a franchise.

He added: " When will the Department for Transport learn?"

Branson also said he was 'immensely proud' of the work by his staff over the years.

Virgin Rail is 49 per cent owned by another giant transport company, Stagecoach, which said that it was disappointed that its bid with Virgin to continue running the franchise had been unsuccessful.

It said it understood that Virgin was the Department for Transport's second-choice bidder and that that the reason it failed to win the new franchise was "because another bidder contracted to pay significantly higher premiums to the Department for Transport".

Meanwhile, FirstGroup chief executive Tim O'Toole said the company was delighted to win the franchise.

He said: "We will be making significant improvements including reduced journey times and introducing new direct services."

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