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 482.

    In my utopia transport would be paid for in your taxes and like the health service; free at the point of delivery.
    Just imagine our country- workers keep more of their hard earned pay, young and old people traveling traveling for free. Tourism. We would be the envy of the world Think I'm crazy? We pay so much tax already and look what we get for it! Cut money wasted on our government to pay for it

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    Maggie said he started with a market stall, and progressed to start an airline company, didn't he do well.. no government money to buy the Jumbo jets then? The tories invented Virgin with our money I think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    First Group are as big a joke as this Government! Sign the petition people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    456. Yes. I mostly agree with you over the Cross-Country thing. Central trains were sometimes like buses on rails, and Cross-Country are a lot better, sometimes dirty though..Don't know why, we're right near the Bombardier depot which services Cross Country and Virgin... Saying that though, some of the long distance Cross-country's insides look like ex-Virgin stock.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    We need clarificatiion.Was the person who awarded the contract,non political?
    Who appointed that person?
    Please tell us that all of our Politicians had nothing whatsoever do with the award of the contract?
    That all of our Politicians are innocent.
    And that Richard Branson is trying to blame,everyone?
    Are we not entitled to now who is telling porkies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    I live in an area where First Great Western have a monopoly and the service and value for money is SH*T. They rip off their passengers because they can - they have no competition, Give them another monopoly on another route and they will do the same. They are taking the P**S.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    438.voice of reason - They already do both run services on the WCML. First runs the Caledonian Sleeper + Trans Pennine Express daytime, and Virgin run to most stops in the day.
    452. Brookone - When handing back the franchise GNER said they overbid and it was making it very hard for them to make their franchise payments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    There's the thing - "profits" are artificial - subsidised by the tax payer. That money could have been ploughed back in to develop a proper rail network that complements the road network, but no, that's long termism, no quick profits or backhanders and the tories won't be able to create the illusion that they've managed the economy 'effectively'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    Can someone explain, it seems in most countries that the governments subsidize their rail network, whereas as in the UK the rail companies have to pay the government to run a business. How is that good for passengers or green transport?

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    392. Sp3cul8or

    The tories & their history of privatising everything has never taken account of quality .... its always about them fast buck for their "friends"

    as for private firms they can promise anything - they have little accountability (except to their shareholders)

    they get a monopoly service

    so is we pay more whilst they reduce quality

    And if it goes wrong we pay again to bail them out

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    I don't care if Richard Branson does stuff for self-aggrandisement so long as he does it well - and Virgin trains, and the service, are brilliant. The Government has got this one wrong, and needs to have the courage to change its mind. I am a supporter of the coalition, so this isn't partisan carping - just good democracy and common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Strange too that David Begg First Group Non-Executive Director was until 2005 Chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport and a Non-Executive Director of the Strategic Rail Authority. The Commission for Integrated Transport (CfIT) is an independent body advising the Government on integrated transport policy.
    These boys really know how to get on in life.
    See also post 393

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    I'm getting sick of this from spoilt brat Branson. You lost the bid. Get over it. You have thrown your dummy out! You're spinning it trying to cry foul play but you tried to get the franchise on the cheap. Of course this Government is going to go for then highest bidder! People complaining about Firstgroup need to give them a chance. What do you want? A seat or dining? Rail companies can't win!

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    I know virgin trains could be better but I have lived on the east coast and have seen how first has distroyed rail travel, their busses are probebly spreading disease, I certainly wouldent travell on one, hiygine is not their strong point. I have seen three busses broken down in the last few years and they have all been first busses, no other busses, dont let this happen on the west coast..

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    Re 434 John Campbell You did ask! Based upon one to one conversation at a social event a few years back,gut feeling,right or wrong.Yes Ide trust Richard Branson. Based on conversations with politicians. Ide trust most them as far as I could spit a grand piano! Especially the career ones who've never had an in the REAL WORLD job!

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    The whole franchise system makes no sense, it results in the worst of both worlds, either privatise things properly so the private companies bear all the responsibility as well as the profits, or keep it fully nationalised. I'd prefer a nationalised system but fully private would work better than the current system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    Branson offers to do many things for free - free publicity !

    I seem to recalling him offering to take Concorde of BA´s hands for free - wonder what he would have done with all the engineers and support teams ? Made them redundant and basked in the public adoration for saving a British Icon no doubt....

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    It's pretty obvious that all privatisation (and the so-called the trickle-down effect, which never materialized -surprise surprise !!!) has failed totally. We need RE NATIONALIZATION for ALL utililties, transport and banks !!!
    What was once OWNED by US is now SOLD to US !!!

    WAKE UP !!!
    Time for DEEP CHANGE !

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    Easy solution. The ministers making the deal are made to stand the finacial losses should FirstGroup go bankrupt. That should sharpen their focus. Too many backroom deals being cut with the public purse carrying the can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    I like his branson pickle more than his transport companys


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