FirstGroup’s West Coast bid faces fresh challenges

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.”


  1. • But does Beardie Branson want to bother with trains anymore? On today’s news 21/08 Virgin Air is going to compete with new internal AIR services. If he were interested in Rail, surely he would lease a few new Pendolinos and run an open access service?
    That would be real competition!

    • He wouldn’t be allowed to compete on an Open Access basis. Remember that Wrexham & Shropshire weren’t allowed to pick up passengers on the WCML as they would have been competing against the franchise holder. Franchises are a strictly enforced monopoly.

  2. I can categorically state that I will NEVER use the West Coast Main Line again when FirstGroup get their grubby mitts on it (it’s interesting how FirstGroup harp on about it being the most profitable franchise; maybe it’s profitable because it’s a good service with lots of staff and it’s managed well by Virgin?)

    I will be buying a car to do my commuting between Liverpool and London in the new year, I’d rather sit in a traffic jam than travel on a FirstGroup train.

    Hopefully the ePetition will show this inept Government Coalition how angry we all are and give the contract back to Virgin.


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