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.


Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living