UK Government Announces Termination of West Coast Franchise

UK Transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, has announced the cancellation of the contract awarding the West Coast mainline rail franchise to First Group.

The government has scrapped the contract after an investigation by the UK Department for Transport discovered major flaws in the franchise process.

Virgin Trains, a UK-based train company, had earlier commenced court proceedings against a decision by the Department of Transport to award the West Coast Main Line franchise to FirstGroup, a Scotland-based transport company.

Virgin Trains has been operating the railway service since 1997, but the Department for Transport awarded the new franchise contract for December 2012 to 2026 to First Group. Angered by the decision, Virgin had collected around 150,000 signatures for a campaign to force a parliamentary discussion to debate the granting of the contract to First Group.

Following the concerns raised, the Transport Select Committee has decided to hold a hearing into the competition for the rail franchise.

The new transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said, ‘I have had to cancel the competition for the running of the West Coast franchise because of deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes made by my department in the way it managed the process.

A detailed examination by my officials into what happened has revealed these flaws and means it is no longer possible to award a new franchise on the basis of the competition that was held.

I have ordered two independent reviews to look urgently and thoroughly into the matter so that we know what exactly happened and how we can make sure our rail franchise programme is fit for purpose.’

West Coast Rail Contract Will Be Signed, Says UK Transport Secretary

The new West Coast mainline rail franchise in the UK, which has recently been granted to First Group, a Scotland based transportation company, will be signed later this week despite growing controversy over the decision.

Virgin Trains, a UK-based train company and the present operator of the franchise, has been running an electronic signature campaign to press for a parliamentary discussion against the granting of the operation of the West Coast line to First Group. The campaign has collected around 100,000 signatures to date.

However, transport secretary, Justine Greening, has said that the new contract will be signed soon and there is no chance of it being delayed despite the pressure tactics for a review that are being exerted by Virgin Trains.

Ms Greening said in an interview with the BBC, that, ‘If we want to move away from above-inflation fares, when it comes to franchising lucrative lines we’ve got to get a better deal for taxpayers, and that’s what we’ve done.

We do plan to push on with signing the contract with FirstGroup and I do suspect that, although I have a huge amount of respect for Virgin and the work they have done on the line, had they won the bid, they would have been perfectly happy with the process.’

Earlier, Tim O’Toole, the chief executive officer of First Group, said, ‘We are delighted to be selected by government to operate this unique railway which connects communities across the country and plays a vital role in the UK’s economic growth.

Our winning bid is a deliverable proposition that is compelling for all who want to see a greater use of our rail networks. We will be making significant improvements including reduced journey times and introducing new direct services.’