Branson warns Greening not to be swayed by unrealistic bids

The race to run the West Coast franchise is hotting up, with Sir Richard Branson writing to Transport Secretary Justine Greening, copying in David Cameron, urging the government not to be swayed by unrealistic high bids.

Tensions have been raised amid reports that First Group and incumbent Virgin are in a two horse race for the franchise, with First Group outbidding Virgin by £1 billion.

Branson has hit back by saying the only way such a bid could be made would be by reducing the quality of service.

Virgin has offered the government £6 billion to run the 14-year franchise that commences in December.

First is thought to have offered £7 billion, which equates to a £500m a year payment to the taxpayer.

Sources at the Department for Transport (DfT) say this would roughly equate to the operator paying them £16 per passenger journey, before any money is used to fund operating costs.

Branson claims that Virgin was the runner up in the race for the East Coast franchise on two occasions, but instead the franchise was awarded to first GNER then National Express, both who walked away before the franchise end after putting in over optimistic bids.

Branson has hit back by saying the only way such a bid could be made would be by reducing the quality of service.

The war of words follows a press conference last December in which Branson stated that Virgin would retain the franchise if customer service was judged to be an important factor.

When asked for his opinion on rival bidders Keolis, backed by France’s SNCF, and Abellio – an offshoot of the Dutch national rail business – he replied: “State-run companies generally speaking do not do that great a job, I believe.”

Mr Branson went on to say that Virgin’s bid would represent “a late Christmas present ” for George Osborne, “bringing literally billions of pounds to his coffers when this country desperately needs cash”.

Since Virgin began operating the West Coast franchise passenger figures have risen from 14 million to 30 million and the the operator has replaced their entire fleet of trains.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Virgin have turned what was a shambles into a relatively efficient franchise and that may go in their favour. However I would not raise any objection to First taking over, providing they maintain the quality of service but one downside could be that every Pendolino will then have to be taken out of service for both exterior and interior re-branding, resulting in temporary reduction in some frequencies. Finally, I would rather see the franchise remaining in the hands of a British company than subsidiaries of French and Dutch state railways.

  2. Firstgroup are the worst TOC ever, dirty trains, appalling customer service aswell, i cannot stand them, Virgin Trains should be awarded the WCML franchise because they’re the best train operator, no other TOC will ever be better than Virgin Trains, Firstgroup are a complete joke, i cannot believe they’re alllowed so many franchises which i think is unfair, they’re already in debt, Firstgroup should not be allowed anymore franchises wotsoever

  3. To be fair to Virgin Trains they have imposed two of the most ergonomically deficient train designs on the UK rail network:

    Have you ever tried to sit in Standard in a Pendolino and found the seat more than a little inadequate and then noticed that a fair proportion of seats in the carriage have no view out at all?

    Have you ever sat in First Class in a Pendolino or Voyager and found that the table leg has been positioned exactly where you want to put your own leg?

    Have you tried to put your luggage on the overhead rack on a Voyager only to find that the cumbersome design of the rack causes it not to fit, or that your umbrella rolls away down into the rack, out of sight (and out of mind)?

    Have you struggled to find an unreserved seat on a Voyager, waiting for the reservation screens (that have been positioned on the edge of the overhead rack, too close to you) to scroll around, delaying you and all those waiting to get on the train behind you (and then potentially ultimately the train itself…)?

    Have you noticed that the Pendolino only has power sockets at table seats (so there are very few in Standard)?

    Have you noticed that the former complimentary ‘Great British Breakfast’ is no longer so great, but is very much smaller than it once was?

    On the upside the service frequency and journey times are much better than 15 years ago, however as above I do not believe that the onboard travelling environment is, which is a pity because it could have been.

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