Can FirstGroup deliver on its West Coast promises?

A First service passes a Virgin Pendolino train in Glasgow Central Station. Photo: Martin Keene/PA Archive

Can it really be done? FirstGroup, already a big train operator, have swiped the UK's most profitable train line from Virgin. They will pay an eye watering £5.5 billion for the privilege. Even that is a very big promise to keep but as well as forking out the cash they have come up with a whole shopping list of other commitments.

First's boss Tim O'Toole says there will be more trains, more services, shorter journey times, better on board catering, wi-fi and what's more a 15 percent cut in standard ticket prices. All that with a promise of no job cuts, no drivers or train staff under threat.

But can it be done? Virgin's Sir Richard Branson this morning says such a costly bid would have put them out of business. And he has slammed the way the government handles rail franchise bids as 'insanity', pointing to previous deals like National Express on the East Coast, that have gone horribly wrong before.

But FirstGroup says it can all be done because of the extra capacity on the line that has been created in recent years. It has a huge test. And given how critical the West Coast line is to keeping the country moving, they had better be right.

PS if you love Pendolino trains don't fret, FirstGroup will take them all over.

Listen to my full interview with Sir Richard Branson, speaking from Necker Island:

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