Virgin Rail Group to retain West Coast on temporary contract

Virgin has been handed back the keys to the West Coast Main Line for at least another nine months while the government seeks to draw up a new franchise deal.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin today announced that Virgin Rail Group would be retained as the route’s operator for nine to 13 months beyond the original deal’s deadline of December 9 while a competition is run for an interim franchise agreement.

The interim agreement would then run until a long-term franchise can be prepared.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin 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 December 9 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.”

On October 3, the previous competition to run trains on the line was cancelled following the discovery of significant technical flaws in the way the franchise process was conducted.

All other live franchise competitions, including the Great Western and Thameslink, were paused following the revelations.

A FirstGroup spokesman said: “We believe the private sector provides the most effective and efficient way to deliver passenger rail services in the UK. We await the outcome of the independent investigations into the ICWC franchise competition and the wider rail franchising process, which we hope will provide a greater degree of certainty and confidence not only to future bidders, but to employees, stakeholders and the travelling public too.”

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