West Coast franchise signing stopped by court challenge
Virgin Trains has been successful in delaying the signing of a new contract for the West Coast Main Line franchise. The announcement was made by Transport Minister Theresa Villiers, who said that the legal challenge has prevented them from signing the contract. However, she insists the FristGroup bid represents big improvements for passengers and will give taxpayers a good return, adding that the government will strongly defend its decision.
The Department for Transport (DfT) took the franchise away from Virgin Trains after 15 years of the company operating the route. Instead, the department awarded the new 13-year contract to FirstGroup. The rival has promised to: add 12,000 passenger seats and 11 new trains from December 2016; invest £22 million into improving stations; add services to Shewsbury, Blackpool and Bolton; make journeys faster between London Euston and Glasgow; lower standard ticket prices; and offer Oyster-style smart ticketing.
After the DfT awarded FirstGroup the West Coast Main Line franchise last week, Virgin Trains demanded a review of the decision. Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson vowed to take the matter to court last week and followed through with that. His intention is to prove the FirstGroup bid was miscalculated by the department and that his company’s bid has more potential to be delivered.
The suspended signing also comes after Labour urged the government to delay the signing so MPs could review the decision. Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle said the decision seems to be almost totally based on a promise of high payments to the government. Additionally, an e-petition calling for the move to be reconsideration was signed by over 165,000 people.