Virgin extends rail deal

The government’s U-turn on the decision to award the rights to the west coast main line to First Group means that Virgin will continue to provide the service for as much as a year after its contract expires.

Virgin has run trains between London and Edinburgh – via Preston – since 1997. However, the contract expires in December and the company failed to win the 13-year extension when the government put it out to tender.

FirstGroup initially won the bidding process by promising more trains and lower ticket prices, with more than £1bn in extra revenue for the government. However, it has now been discovered that the tender process was hugely flawed, the new contract has been rescinded and the situation remains unresolved.

Now, when Virgin’s contract expires in December, the company will be allowed to continue providing trains for between nine months and a year, whilst a new tender process is put in place.

Virgin currently employs around 400 staff working out of Preston station who will retain their roles whilst the company services the contract.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “The cancellation of the InterCity West Coast franchise is deeply regrettable and I apologise to the bidders involved and the taxpayer who have a right to expect better.

“My priority now is to fix the problem and the first step is to take urgent action to ensure that on the 9 December services continue to run to the same standard and passengers are not affected.

“I believe Virgin remaining as operator for a short period of time is the best way to do this and my officials and I will be working flat out to make this happen.”