In the latest development in the West Coast Main Line franchise saga, the Department for Transport will ask Virgin Rail Group to extend its current agreement for a limited period.
Virgin Rail’s agreement was due to end on December 9 this year, and the new franchise was originally awarded to FirstGroup. However, following a protest campaign by Virgin Rail over the handling of the award, and a subsequent investigation by the Department for Transport, certain discrepancies were brought to light and the award to FirstGroup was withdrawn.
Two independent reviews have been set up into what went wrong with the bidding process, and while the findings of those reviews are awaited, Virgin Trains will continue to operate the line, possibly doing so for as long as nine months. The franchise process for other lines, including Essex Thameside, Great Western and Thameslink have also been put on hold until the reviewers have had an opportunity to report their findings.
Patrick McLoughlin, transport secretary, said, ‘The cancellation of the InterCity West Coast franchise is deeply regrettable and I apologise to the bidders involved and the taxpayer who have a right to expect better. My priority now is to fix the problem and the first step is to take urgent action to ensure that on the December 9th services continue to run to the same standard and passengers are not affected. I believe Virgin remaining as operator for a short period of time is the best way to do this and my officials and I will be working flat out to make this happen.’
A Virgin Trains spokesman commented that the company was now in a position to ‘offer customers some short-term continuity.’