Virgin hopes to delay train deal

Sir Richard Branson has questioned whether FirstGroup can fulfil the lofty promises made to the government which allowed them to take over the contract held by Virgin for the last 15 years.

The rights to run trains between London and Edinburgh – and therefore through Preston – went to tender this summer after FirstGroup outbid the incumbent company by more than £1bn.

The move looks good for Lancashire on paper, with FirstGroup promising to reduce the average fare, increase the number of journeys, improve stations and connect Blackpool to other major cities.

However, the Virgin boss says the plans simply aren’t realistic and has called for a government review into the decision. Branson has even offered to run the service on a not-for-profit basis when his contract expires in December until the case has been reviewed.

A statement read: “Virgin Trains Limited has commenced court proceedings in respect of the decision to award the West Coast Main Line franchise to FirstGroup.

“We have tried for three weeks to get clarity over the Department for Transport’s decision and to have a number of key questions answered. On each occasion we have been refused information.

“We are left with no choice but to commence court proceedings as we believe the procurement process has ignored the substantial risks to taxpayers and customers of delivering FirstGroup’s bid over the course of the franchise.”

A response by FirstGroup read: “There has been no complaint about the process, which was carefully described in advance, until Virgin Rail Group had lost.”

Transport secretary Justine Greening said she had no plans to reverse the decision.