Richard Branson is cranking up pressure on the government to reconsider its decision to award FirstGroup the West Coast franchise, backing an online petition which demands a fresh look at the bids.
Branson, who has described the decision as “insanity” and the bid “unrealistic”, has asked supporters to sign an independent e-petition urging the Government to reconsider its decision.
Last week, the Department for Transport (DfT) named FirstGroup as the new operator of the West Coast Mainline after the company submitted a bid of £5.5 billion over the life of the 14-year contract.
The new deal will require FirstGroup to pay back around £423 million each year compared to the £160 million currently payed by Virgin.
Virgin, which is owned 51 per cent by Virgin and 49 per cent by Stagecoach, has until August 28 to decide whether to mount a legal challenge against the decision.
Several Parliamentary committees are also understood to be interested in scrutinising some of FirstGroup’s projections.
In a statement on Virgin’s website, Branson said: “The Government may as well have auctioned the West Coast Main Line on eBay. ‘Roll up, roll up for the Great Train Sale! Highest bidder wins. Doesn’t matter when you pay, 10 years or 15 years time will do. ‘We don’t mind how much debt your company has. Deliverability not an issue. Quality not a factor. Redundancies not a problem. Roll up, roll up’.”
The online petition has so far collected more than 9,000 signatures.
Branson added: “It has been wonderful to see how many people care so deeply about this issue. It is particularly touching to see so many comments from our staff, who have been integral to transforming the rail networks over the past 15 years, and so many lovely comments about our staff.”