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 502.

    Branson took it upon himself to e-mail all known passengers when someone set up the online petition to Downing Street. If he is willing to run the service free, why does he not do so anyway and let passengers benefit? Clearly all his mates are posting on this HYS. I use Virgin between Wigan and Euston and I say categorically they are very poor indeed. I will get minuses, of course, but so what?

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    Interesting points from other comments - David Begg First Group Director being Chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport and a Director of the Strategic Rail Authority until 2005 - under the previous government, then, not the current one, so why might he be a problem? The other point about governments subsidising rail travel - when, if ever, will ours learn what's important to us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    Maybe if Virgin had come in at a lower bid, when they first tendered for the line. Branson would not now have to offer to run it for free ( does any businessman do things for free ? ) while he lobby,s to get a tender review !
    He tendered, he lost. End of story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    470. Dazzini - Gave first a chance yesterday. Late, dirty, neglected bus. Forced to give them a chance twice a day 4 days out of 7. People on the GWR line have given them plenty of chances. How many more do you think they need?

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    Please can these comments be focussed on the issue that we are facing NOW? if they are to have any impact. We need to address this urgently.

    I believe we must continue to fight for this to be debated in government as per the e-petition agreement (more than 100,000 signatures). And I hope my Westmorland MP will listen to the views of WCML passengers. Virgin has run a good service, why change it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    people need to realize we live in a country,with corrupt politicans and bankers

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    When will enough be enough with privatisation full stop. Gas, electricity, water, public transport... in the majority of cases where essential services have been sold off, the public have lost out. The only people benefitting are the shareholders of these companies who are making money out of people who can ill afford to pay it. Ofcourse, the government love it because they're in on the scam.

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    Re465 Red-Gadfly Ive been awake for years. We appear to be singing from the same song book. Maybee from the other side of the house but the songs the same as are the FACTS you state, allow me to echo. WE are now paying very heavily for what WAS once OURS, like this countries AUTONOMY due the UNELECTED and UNACCOUNTABLE EU experiment,dream,farce,fiasco,charade, British democracy LOL !

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    I only hope that if the First Group franchise fails, as others have done; all those making the judgement to accept the bid are summarily dismissed without pension as it seems a reckless decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    What defines "efficiency" on the railway? Most people see it as punctuality only. Network Rail's performance is much more important in determining the level of punctuality than the train operator's. All First Group franchises have better punctuality records that Virgin.
    FirstGroup has a big challenge ahead of it in adhering its new franchise agreement. Time will tell whether it is successful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    Richard should realise that the government are not here to help the people of this country, how can someone promise all that thay have and lower prices are they living in cloud cookoo land, just wait and see

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    I do hope that the franchise has performance targets and water-tight penalty clauses that don't allow the winner (regardless of who it is) to simply say 'Whoops, we miscalculated - sorry that bit of the contract is no longer viable.'

    No doubt we'll discovered that certain parts of the contract have been written in 'Blaired' English and won't mean in reality what they appear to mean on paper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    479 abi l w the cross country trains do use the former trains. however some were retained by virgin west coast for the birmingham to scotland services and these should be replaced by new electric trains .

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    This privatised rail system now costs,us the tax payer , more than it did when it was nationalised, in subsidies, the rail companies give money to the exchequer with one hand and get more in the other hand and still charge the earth for a journey,all in the name of profits, and if they cant make a profit they just seem to walk away and say they over bid for a franchise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    Branson is like a shark circling our fleshy and stupid government. He's not scared to take a large bite out of them. How much did tax payers lose on Northern Rock?

    He's used social media launch a bandwagon of people crying out for his services and like a knight in shining armour is offering to run a service for free because he's just that nice.

    Also where are our spaceship rides, Branson?

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    The comments on here make me laugh!!!

    Why are you all surprised that the decision made is not in the best in the interest of the people?

    The people who made the decison of choosing the winning tender/bidder are corrupt and couldn't care less about the general public.

    When are the public going to stand up and say enough is enough!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    Presumably a whole bunch of people are going to be put on the dole or "re-graded" as a result of this. Dear government, in the current economic climate, is that really worth what you've saved? (Do the franchise calculations take that into account?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    @446.Chad H

    Competition comes during the bidding process, and if First put in the best bid (with relevant safeguards) they they win, and well done to them. They may lose other franchises, they may gain franchises, there are no guarantees, and that's the way it should be.

    Virgin need to accept this decision and, rather than walk away, bid for other franchises and take the fight to First.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    I am very interested to know more about the penalty clauses within this new contract, given that First will be effectively handed a monopoly position.

    Performance penalties will be no deterrent when there is no prospect of losing the contract and fines can simply be rolled into fares.

    Why can we not inspect these terms for ourselves instead of being subjected to poorly informed journalism?

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    "I live in Chester and must since Virgin took over the line they have increased direct services from Chester and North Wales.."
    First says that it will extend more trains to Bangor. Virgin then said it would have extended even more to Bangor had it kept the franchise. Ya Boo!! And yes, Worst North Westeren were awful.


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