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15 August 2012 | Adam Leach
Sir Richard Branson has accused the government of using a “flawed system” to award the contract to operate the West Coast Main Line after his company lost out.
The Department for Transport (DfT) announced this morning that First West Coast Limited - a subsidiary of FirstGroup - will take over the rail network, which runs from London to Glasgow from 9 December. As part of its bid, FirstGroup has promised to deliver 12,000 new seats, extra services, and to reduce journey times. It has also promised to cut fares by 15 per cent within two years.
But Branson, whose company Virgin Trains has operated the line since 1997, strongly criticised the bidding process. In his blog on the company website, he wrote: “Based on the current flawed system, it is extremely unlikely that we would bid again for a franchise. The process is too costly and uncertain, with our latest bid costing £14 million. We have made realistic offers for the East Coast twice before, which were rejected by the Department for Transport for completely unrealistic ones, and therefore will have to think hard before embarking on another bid.
“This is the fourth time we have been out-bid in a rail tender. 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.”
Tim O’Toole, chief executive at FirstGroup, said the company’s bid was “a deliverable proposition that is compelling for all who want to see a greater use of our rail networks”.
“We will be making significant improvements including reduced journey times and introducing new direct services,” he added.
Rail Minister, Theresa Villiers, said: “The West Coast is the first of the new longer franchises to be let by the coalition, which has helped us secure real benefits for passengers by encouraging First West Coast Limited to invest in the future of the service.”