Rail bidding war has gone off track

Virgin look set to maintain the West Coast franchise in the near future
Virgin look set to maintain the West Coast franchise in the near future
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THE franchise process to run the West Coast mainline has been a ‘shambles’ according to one city politician.

Labour Parliamentary spokesman for Milton Keynes, Andrew Pakes, spoke out on Monday after Virgin Trains was asked to continue to run the service for the next nine to 13 months.

He said: “The Government’s approach to the franchise is looking increasingly crazy. While many people will be relieved Virgin will keep the service for another 18 months, Ministers are proposing another two rounds of franchising before this sorry situation is sorted out.

“The cost of this shambles looks likely to hit £100 million with Ministers scrambling around to blame civil servants. We need clarity about what this decision means for passengers and who will pick up the tab for the extra franchise rounds. We also need an independent inquiry into this mess.”

The Green Party believes the Government has wasted a chance to improve rail travel.

Spokesman Alan Francis said Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s decision to allow Virgin Rail to continue running the West Coast franchise shows ‘a lack of desire to take the simplest route to better rail transport; re-nationalisation.’

He said: “Privatised rail is failing the people of this country, and the Government has wasted a chance to take back into public ownership – at no cost – one of the most important transport routes in the country.”

FirstGroup was awarded the franchise on August 15 before the decision was reversed on October 3 after the Government was forced to admit it had miscalculated.

However, both city MPs said they are focused on an improved service.

Iain Stewart, who represents Milton Keynes South, said: “Longer term, it is vital the franchise process is reviewed thoroughly to make sure the improvements planned to train services are delivered quickly and are sustainable.

“As a member of the Transport Committee in Parliament, I will be playing a key scrutiny role to make sure that happens.”

And Mark Lancaster, his Milton Keynes North counterpart, said: “The announcement that Virgin will continue to operate the WCML while a new tender is put together should reassure passengers that they will continue to enjoy the excellent rail service that we have fought so hard to deliver in recent years.”