Virgin Trains will continue to operate rail services on the West Coast mainline, including the Liverpool to London route, it has been announced.
The U-turn in the decision to award the 13-year franchise to First Group was welcome news for Virgin boss Richard Branson.
The deal, which was announced by government Transport Secretary Patrick McLouglin, will see Virgin’s rail service continue to run for the next 23 months. This will end in November 2014, after which a long-term letting of the franchise will be decided.
Mr McLouglin said: “We are determined to ensure not only that passengers continue to experience the same levels of service they have in the past, but that services improve. There will be a new hourly service linking Glasgow and London and we will also work with Virgin Trains to explore other service improvements.”
He added: “I am also extremely pleased that passengers will benefit from up to 28,000 more seats daily thanks to the delivery of 106 new Pendolino carriages onto the West Coast Main Line which has happened on budget and ahead of schedule.”
Bidding on the franchise was put to a stop after McLoughlin claimed that mistakes had been made by the Department for Transport. Sir Richard had also mounted a legal challenge against the initial decision.
Earlier in the year, Merseyside MP Maria Eagle criticised the process, telling JMU Journalism: “It’s a complete and all round mess, and it’s a very costly mess, which is going to cost the tax payer at least £40 million and probably a lot more.
“It’s left the Department of Transport and the franchising policy in chaos and there’ll be a short-term impact on the possibility of passengers getting the improvements that they have been promised,” she added.
Virgin trains have been running the franchise since 1997. The West Coast services includes a popular route from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston.
Virgin Trains also hope to introduce a new and improved passenger’s charter incorporating a delay repay scheme from 1st April 2013.