Sir Richard Branson condemns rail bid process as Virgin Rail loses West Coast Main Line franchise to FirstGroup

 

Virgin Rail lost its West Coast main line franchise to rival transport
company FirstGroup today following a Government bidding process dubbed
"insane" by Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson.

Virgin has run the London to Scotland West Coast, with its high-speed tilting Pendolino trains, since 1997, more than doubling annual passenger numbers.

But today the Government announced that a new 13-year franchise for West Coast was being awarded to FirstGroup which already operates a number of other rail routes.

FirstGroup will pay £5.5 billion back to the Government in premiums over the life of the franchise, with Rail Minister Theresa Villiers saying the new franchise would deliver "big improvements for passengers with more seats and plans for more services".

FirstGroup chief executive Tim O'Toole said his company would be making "significant improvements, including reduced journey times, and introducing new direct services".

But Labour, transport unions and Sir Richard fear FirstGroup will be unable to meet its performance promises and financial commitments and that the award of the new franchise could result in service cuts, job losses and big fare rises.

Sir Richard said Virgin, believed to have bid around £4.8 billion for the franchise, could not have bid more without cutting customer quality and raising fares "considerably".

In a strongly-worded statement, Sir Richard added that he was "extremely disappointed" with the franchise decision made by the Department for Transport (DfT).

He went on: "Based on the current flawed system, it is extremely unlikely that we would bid again for a franchise."

Sir Richard said bankruptcy had hit former East Coast main line operators GNER and National Express who had "overbid" for the East Coast franchise.

He went on: "Sadly, the Government has chosen to take that risk with FirstGroup and we only hope they will continue to drive dramatic improvements on this line for years to come without letting everybody down."

Sir Richard added that this was the fourth time Virgin had been outbid in a franchise tender process.

He went on: "On the past three occasions, the winning operator has come nowhere close to delivering their promised plans and revenue, and has let the public and country down dramatically.

"GNER and National Express over-promised in order to win the franchise and spectacularly ran into financial difficulties in trying to deliver their plans. The East Coast is still in Government ownership and its service is outdated and underinvested, costing passengers and the country dearly as a result.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. When will the Department for Transport learn?"

The DfT said benefits of the new franchise, which will start on December 9, would include:

:: Around 12,000 extra seats a day when the new 11 six-car electric trains come into service in December 2016;

:: This is in addition to the 106 extra Pendolino carriages currently being introduced into operation which will deliver more than 28,000 extra daily seats;

:: More services: Initially First West Coast will operate the timetable they will inherit from the current franchise but are seeking to introduce a number of new services including a London Euston to Blackpool service from 2013 and, from 2016, services from London to Telford Central, Shrewsbury and Bolton;

:: Improved services: Journey time improvements between London and Glasgow are planned, as well as additional services from London to Preston.

:: Improved stations: First West Coast is taking over responsibility for maintenance at 17 stations and will spend at least £22 million on a station investment programme.

Ms Villiers said that as well as improved travelling conditions and plans for more services, the franchise would see passenger satisfaction targets included for the first time.

But shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said that passengers would "lose out" and ministers had to "reassure taxpayers that they have not been swayed by an unrealistic bid that does not in the end deliver the payments that have been promised".

The RMT transport union said the FirstGroup bid was "a total con from top to bottom" and was linked to "massive cuts to jobs and services and huge increases in fares".

The TSSA transport union said that only by the introduction of 14 years of inflation-busting pay rises could FirstGroup meet its premium payments.

Rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus said the important thing for rail travellers was value for money and "not the name on the side of the train".

The Institute of Directors said it hoped the new franchisee would be "able to fulfil the pledges of their bid" and improve passenger services.

PA

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
John Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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 General

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Technical Support Analyst (C++, Windows, Linux, Perl, Graduate)

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global leader in trading platforms and e...

Junior IT Consultant (SQL, Java, C++, Oracle, Graduate)

£28000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A fast growing consultancy to the financia...

Technical Support Analyst (Windows, Linux, Unix, Graduate)

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Support Analyst - Liverpool Stre...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil