Virgin retains West Coast mainline

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Lime Street Station in Liverpool. Photo: Ida Husøy

Lime Street Station in Liverpool. Photo: Ida Husøy

Virgin Trains will continue to run the West Coast mainline until April 2017, following a long-running row over who will operate the Liverpool to London route.

Today’s announcement by the Government was made following two independent reviews as a result of the West Coast bidding fiasco last year between Virgin and FirstGroup.

JMU Journalism reported back in December that Virgin rail had confirmed a deal to continue running its West Coast service until November 2014.

FirstGroup had initially won the bid for a 13-year franchise for the West Coast main line but the decision was revoked by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin after it was revealed serious mistakes had been made by civil servants from the Department for Transport during the bidding process.

There was speculation yesterday that Virgin Trains was to receive an extension on their current contract until 2016, but ministers have issued a longer contract.

A spokesman for Virgin Trains told JMU Journalism: “We believe we have delivered great improvements to the public and we look forward to continuing to do so.”

Virgin train at Lime Street station © kpmarek/Flickr

Virgin train at Lime Street station © kpmarek/Flickr

The announcement also coincides with a report from the Transport Secretary regarding the long-term future of services. Patrick McLoughlin MP said: “This programme is a major step in delivering tangible improvements to services, providing long-term certainty to the market and supporting our huge programme of rail investment.”

Richard Brown, Chairman of the newly formed Franchise Advisory Panel, said: “It is clear to me that this announcement represents an opportunity for the government to seek competitive and innovative proposals from the existing Train Operating Companies and potential new market entrants to demonstrate how they will continue to improve services for passengers.

“The franchise programme will also allow fresh energy to be brought to the urgent task of developing closer partnerships with Network Rail to drive out costs from the industry and provide a better deal for passengers and taxpayers.”

Competition also began today for the East Coast main line rail franchise.

About Alice Kirkland, JMU Journalism