Virgin given go-ahead to run the West Coast main line
06:21 06 December 2012
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains will carry on running services on the West Coast main line for a further 23 months, it was announced this morning.
The company had been set to lose the West Coast franchise it has operated since 1997.
But the Government scrapped the bidding after Department for Transport (DfT) faults were found with the bidding process.
Today’s temporary deal, announced by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, will see Virgin carry on with the London to Scotland route until November 9, 2014, after which the West Coast line will be let under a long-term franchise.
Mr McLoughlin said: “We are determined to ensure not only that passengers continue to experience the same levels of service they have in the past, but that services improve.
“There will be a new hourly service linking Glasgow and London and we will also work with Virgin Trains to explore other service improvements.”
Virgin has run the line since 1997, but in August the Department for Transport (DfT) announced that a new 13-year West Coast franchise had been awarded to rival transport company FirstGroup.
It was only after Sir Richard, who had branded the bidding process “insane”, mounted a legal challenge to the decision that Mr McLoughlin scrapped the bidding process, saying there had been mistakes by the DfT.
Three DfT officials were suspended and negotiations were started with a view to getting Virgin to run the line for between nine and 13 months before a short interim franchise was offered followed by a longer one later.
When he pulled the plug on the West Coast franchise bidding, Mr McLoughlin appointed businessman Sam Laidlaw to produce an independent report into the fiasco.
After producing damning initial findings, which listed failings by the DfT, Mr Laidlaw presented his full report to the department last week.
But with one of the suspended department officials, Kate Mingay, mounting a legal challenge to her suspension, Mr McLoughlin announced that he was delaying the Laidlaw report publication until this week.
Mr Laidlaw had been due to appear before the House of Commons Transport Committee this week, but MPs will now hear his evidence on December 18.