Virgin Trains offers to run West Coast 'for free'

Virgin train arriving at Euston Virgin has run the West Coast Mainline for 15 years, during which passenger numbers have doubled

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Sir Richard Branson has offered to run the West Coast Mainline "for free" to give Parliament time to review the £10bn franchise's award to FirstGroup.

He said Virgin Trains and Stagecoach would run it on a not-for-profit basis after December - when they are due to hand over the franchise - if more time was needed for a review.

More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition against the decision.

FirstGroup said it would bring in key improvements for passengers.

In its bid, FirstGroup said it would introduce better wi-fi and food, more frequent trains and more seats, and would cut standard fares by 15%.

The firm said it would introduce 11 new 125mph six-car electric trains on the Birmingham-to-Glasgow route and provide more direct services between destinations.

'Almost certain bankruptcy'

However, the Virgin boss claimed promises made by FirstGroup in its successful bid were unrealistic and would lead to his rival's "almost certain bankruptcy".

In an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph, Sir Richard described the government's decision as "outrageous, unjust and simply wrong".

His campaign to have the decision reviewed has been backed by businessman Lord Sugar, TV chef Jamie Oliver and the double Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah.

The government is due to sign the 13-year contract with FirstGroup on Tuesday, following the Department for Transport's decision earlier this month.

Louise Ellman, who chairs the House of Commons transport committee, has written to Transport Secretary Justine Greening asking her to delay signing the contract.

But a Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman said: "We note the offer that one of the bidders appears to have made via the press.

"However, the winning bidder was decided by a fair and established process and no reason has been advanced to convince DfT not to sign the agreement."

Virgin has run the franchise since 1997, during which time passenger numbers have doubled, but has been told that its tenure will end on 9 December.

Sir Richard said that if reviewing the decision meant the December deadline had to be postponed, his company and Stagecoach would be willing to continue operating the railway lines while donating any profits to charity.

'Fare cuts'

The government says FirstGroup's new trains should add a further 12,000 seats a day on West Coast routes from 2016.

FirstGroup said it already ran an award-winning service and was looking forward to welcoming new passengers.

"As a result of our plans, customers travelling with us will use faster brand new trains with more seats, serving more destinations than the current service," a spokesman said.

"There will be improved wi-fi, better catering, refurbished stations and importantly we'll be cutting standard anytime fares by 15% on average."

About 31 million passengers travel on the West Coast Mainline every year.

West Coast Mainline map

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  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    I for one will now drive from London to Manchester on business, I would rather eat my own arms than travel with First whom I have been forced to used when I travel to Cardiff int the past, the only decent long distance train company has now been removed by this government of broken promises.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Virgin is an efficient spin machind peddling poor products. Virgin's trains were the least punctual of all 19 operating companies in the UK. Branson is arrogant, ruthless and sore loser.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    Auntie Margaret' s belligerant repost is "tits up" .
    The current system benifits only the magnates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    Forget the trains...Video Conference! Far more cost effective & more environmentally friendly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    Standard fares to be cut by 15% when first group take over. But what about bus fares especially in East Anglia they are one of the highest in the UK plus the routes that have been cut out for economic reasons which have effected a lot of customers.
    Firstgroup want a bigger piece of the transport cake. Do we really want them to rule the transport system in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    So when we vote for a Government (or not as the case may be) they get 5 years to get it right but when the government pick the train operater with the biggest pockets they get a 13 year deal, if they don't deliver that is a long time to wait for those who need a decent service!

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    most trains including virgins and first group are owned by leasing companies.
    stefan green 424, when virgin cross country lost their franchise to arriva,additional routes were added from central trains with existing rolling stock which is more comfortable than virgin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    I live in Chester and must since Virgin took over the line they have increased direct services from Chester and North Wales from a few trains a day to an hourly service ! The government’s decision to give this franchise to First is not in the passenger’s best interest . Also maybe they need reminding that First used to have the North Wales coast line until they lost it to Arriva Trains Wales!

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.


    If Virgin own the existing rolling stock and the locomotives, they should simply refuse to sell them to First Group and use them elsewhere on the other services they run."

    Most are on a 30 year lease. All new purchases are only allowed with government approval, i.e. they've got that covered (another part of the 'privatization' that isn't all that private).

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    437 - well said. But they have more state regulation...and our banks have done just fine without it haven't they?

    We should have government league tables to see how 'well' our lot have done. If they drop out of the league it should trigger an election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    440. Drone - "GNER's xbillion nonsense" - get your facts right - GNER made a profit and ran a good service - it was it's parent company that went bankrupt, forcing the sale of GNER.

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    Who wrote the spec.on all this??
    First says it will do X, Virgin says it will do Y. The D of T as customer is letting the suppliers write their own specs so price comparison is pointless. The D of T should specify quantifiable and measurable objectives it wishes to achieve and invite bids on delivering to that spec, against a performance bond if necessary. IME that's how service contracts work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.


    We can then invest these "profits" back into the railway instead of donating to charity (Virgin), or letting shareholders collect (First).

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    Branson is a businessman and thus has to make a profit to pay dividends. That doesn't automatically make him evil. If he's offering to run this as non-profit, even for a short while as the contract is given some more serious thought, then snap his hand off!! Obviously he doesn't want to lose the franchise, but he's offered to divert a chunk of cash to charity. That's a good thing isn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    If Branson is flush with money to operate at cost why does he not simply offer to Pay more Tax out of the goodness of his heart ?

    He is no better than the rest !

    We all used to admire him

    No longer

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    The Government should look at First Groups operations in other parts of the country. The buses run by First in Greater Manchester are the most expensive and are the least well run. Stagecoach (who own 49% of virgin trains) are far more reliable and cost a fraction of the price to use. However, First have the money to give the government a back hander so since money talks, they win!

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    431. ns_abz - You act as if First don't run railways. They do - FGW, Scotrail, and more. Not only do they run trains, they run them on the same route - Glasgow/Edinburgh (+ other Scottish Destinations) to Euston.

    How does it support "competition" to take the two west coast franchises, and put them under one company - giving First 2 out of the 3 London-Scotland routes (if you include the ECML).

  • Comment number 445.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    I think they should have given the contract back to Branson as he has a nice goaty and xmas jumpers much more friendly looking than the others

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    Look at the cockup the government have made with awarding the thameslink train build to Seimens. Here we go again. Leave it with Virgin


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