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
    0

    Comment number 582.

    580
    That would be badly?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 581.

    Why did Branson not make this offer before First Group won the franchise.
    He should have submitted his best bid and this offer in the first place when he had a chance.
    The bidding process is over.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 580.

    I am sorry that the BBC does not allow space to correct all the errors that I have read in this discussion. Try reading the specialist press to understand how the rail system operates in this country.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 579.

    Railways should be all British Rail like before and a nonprofit organisation. Things are far worse year by year for Rail journey. Motor Roads are also over congested and accidents road blocks not uncommon. Public and Govt. should think again to go for a major change.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 578.

    @ 572. paulmerhaba : "Further down the line I can see companies like Firstgroup and Virgin competing for NHS franchises."

    Do you really think we'll get Virgin doctors and nurses ? I thought times had changed ...

    SORRY, couldn't resist it !!! ;^) I totally agree with you !!!

    Virgin PMs and MPs (sorry, 'UK representatives') next !!!

    Time for DEEP CHANGE !!!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 577.

    Cunning move Branson.

    If your offer to run not for profit (to provide time for further debate) is not taken up then there can be only one conclusion.

    This is the kind of litmus test that reveals the true nature of our government.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 576.

    567. Shaunie Babes - WCML isnt run on a subsidy basis.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 575.

    I have an idea....why don't we run the railways like in France. Most high speed services require passengers to have a reservation to travel. Tickets are sold like airlines. 1 ticket = 1 seat. No standing in the coach or vestibule area. There will be no overcrowding and everyone has a seat! OH WAIT A MIN..You would complain that you can't travel when you want on any train! You people make me laugh!

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 574.

    It is clear from comments here and elsewhere that the First Group has no support amongst its passengers, whereas services operated by Virgin seem to be hugely popular. So once again we see a government riding roughshod over the views of the people who count. They failed to listen to GPs and Nurses over the Health and Social Care Bill and they are doing the same with this rail franchise. Shameful.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 573.

    Look again, there is now wi-fi on some FGW trains, and there is a tender out to equip all First Group trains with Wi-Fi. FGW is certainly on a par with VWC, on it's longer distance trains, I commute daily on one and have extensive experience of using the other on days off. A lot of misinformation being spread around, and it doesn't do Branson any favours to appear so unprofessional.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 572.

    Further down the line I can see companies like Firstgroup and Virgin competing for NHS franchises.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 571.

    If he is genuinely so confident his competitor will go bankrupt, then all he needs to do is be patient... perhaps he is not so confident and it is more a case that he has never been particularly graceful in losing?!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 570.

    Will all those that signed the petition receive a signed xmas card from Branson or from Louise Mensch?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 569.

    Of course if contracts were awarded for customer service, investing their own money into infrastructure & repairs (instead of relying on NetworkRail) & sheer reliabilty of service then all rail contracts would go to Chiltern rail.

    Unfortunately the other rail providers, see Chiltern's model of using their own money to maintain track as a threat to their own vastly inflated profit margins.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 568.

    The fact is there are serious questions to be asked about the long term viability of FirstGroup`s offer, these questions need to be answered and I can see no logical reason why the contract should not be delayed until they are answered. After all to use that much over used phrase what have they got to hide? As for the govt they just seem in just a bit to much of a rush to sign up.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 567.

    Does this "for free" include the massive taxpayer subsidy he receives ?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 566.

    FirstGroup have consistently trumpeted that they will provide faster trains. This is a red herring because West Coast Mainline maximum speed is limited to 125mph due to the track. Their other claims are not born out by their existing services.

    Could the real reason for Sir Richard losing the contract actually be that he was the darling of the previous administration? Just a thought...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 565.

    Oh yes, the Government hate Branson. They gave him a bank at well under cost price and ripped us right off. That's hate for you.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 564.

    Virgin Trains - the peoples champion???
    Just had call from daughter that Virgin refused her access to their train at Crewe after Creamfield debacle. So she is stranded hundreds of miles from home...thanks a lot Richard! Their trains are always the most expensive, have no seats for ordinary passengers and hundreds of empty first class seats!! Had chance and blew it..sooner Virgin goes the better.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 563.

    Nationalization failed because the people put in charge were never held to account for their failings. Privatization failed because the people put in charge were never held to account for their failings.

    "Private" and "Public" are irrelevant distractions. Either can be well run or badly run. As long as they're run as jobs for the boys the railways will remain badly run under either system.

 

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