i Editor's Letter: The West Coast rail franchise fiasco


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The Independent Online


In today's paper I commend to you in particular our always excellent travel guru, Simon Calder, on the transport implications of this Great Train Omnishambles (p4); while Steve Richards addresses the murky politics of the situation (p13).

"Omnishambles" is a (new) word I've tried to avoid in relation to the Government, for fear of being deemed party-pris. With regards to the scrapping of the West Coast rail franchise award, however, it is splendidly apposite. Neither the new Transport Secretary, Patrick McCloughlin, who only weeks ago assured us all that due process had been followed, nor the old, Justine Greening, who conducted that process, have covered themselves in glory. Nor has Tim O'Toole of FirstGroup, whose unlikely numbers really do not appear to add up – just as Sir Richard Branson said.

And that is the most unpredictable outcome of all: the public is left feeling aggrieved on behalf of both ourselves and the ultimate showman Branson, whose service may not be cheap, but – according to many who use it – is better than its rivals and predecessor.

And, disappointingly, it also shows – yet again – that it is better to be very rich, like Sir Richard, and litigious if you intend to hold the Government and the Civil Service to account for their complacency and incompetence.

The only person to emerge from the affair with any real credibility is Branson. So why re-run the whole sorry pitch process again at a cost of £40m, and instead just award Virgin the franchise for its more realistic bid? We have come a very long way from remembering what privatisation was ever supposed to be about. .