Virgin Trains awarded West Coast Mainline contract

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VIRGIN Trains will run the West Coast rail line for a further 23 months.

Richard Branson’s operator was awarded a contract extension this morning.

The move follows weeks of negotiation after the Government was forced to cancel its decision to award the contract to FirstGroup, following a bidding competition for the franchise.

Faults were found in that process, with transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin calling the errors made “completely unacceptable.”

The deal comes on the day the Government is due to release the full report on the West Coast rail tender, cataloguing the errors inside the department during the original awarding process.

Mr McLoughlin said the extension was the right decision for passenger service and that travellers would benefit from up to 28,000 more seats every day. The existing franchise had been due to expire by Sunday, December 9.

The 23-month period, after which the competition will be re-run, is longer than originally indicated. Ministers had planned to give Virgin an extension of up to 13 months, then re-tender for a short-term franchise, before running a competition for the long-term contract.

Labour Parliamentary spokesman for Milton Keynes, Andrew Pakes, said the decision ended a period of uncertainty for passengers, but added that the Government still has questions to answer.

“The shambles on the franchise has cost taxpayers at least £40 million,” he said.

“The Government appear to have dropped plans to cut fares on the route and we don’t know what will happen when the franchise is re-tendered in 23 months’ time.

“The Government needs to rethink its approach to cut-price franchising and put passengers first.”