Handover of West Coast Main Line to FirstGroup suspended after legal challenge from Virgin

 

The future of the West Coast Main Line franchise was thrown into doubt today when the deal to hand it over to FirstGroup was suspended because of a legal challenge by Virgin.

Virgin, who have run the west coast since 1997, launched the challenge after losing the bid last week.

The Transport Secretary Justine Greening today confirmed that the decision is on hold, though the government plans to fight Virgin’s legal challenge “robustly”.

She said: “We have not yet signed the contract with First West Coast, and consequently the competition remains open.”

The battle is over the right to operate the busiest rail network in the country, between London and Glasgow, through the West Midlands and the North West. The new contract was intended to run from December until April 2026, with the option of continuing until the end of 2027.

Virgin’s founder Sir Richard Branson, reacted to the loss of the franchise last week by vowing to go to court and try to prove that officials from the Department of Transport had miscalculated and that Virgin’s bid was more “deliverable” than FirstGroup’s.

He claimed that the price FirstGroup had offered for the franchise was so high that they would have to fill “every seat” on their trains and put up fares to cover it. “We bid twice for the East Coast Main Line and on both occasions we were runners up - and on both occasions the person who won it overbid and went bust,” he added.

But Ms Greening today claimed that that FirstGroup’s bid offered a better deal for taxpayers and rail passengers. It included the promise of 11 new 125 mph six car electric trains and 12,000 extra passenger seats per day from December 2016, faster journeys between London Euston and Glasgow, new services to Blackpool, Bolton and Shrewsbury, lower standard fares, Oyster style smart ticketing and £22m in Station improvements.

Virgin has accused the government of choosing the “high risk” bid which they say should be independently audited, and Labour’s Maria Eagle said the award of the franchise seemed to be “almost exclusively a 'bottom line' one, driven by a particularly high pledge of payments to government.”

A petition on the Downing Street website calling for the franchise decision to be reconsidered has attracted more than 167,000 signatures.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there