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 702.

    first will mess up then the goverment will have both main lines then we will be back to the br days before we no it first are all about profit and not costomer care i can not wait to see the goverment eat humble pie again. for first to meet the bid they have put in jobs will have to go more people on the dole more homes lost just what we need

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    police, ambulance, fire brigade,
    coach and horse, canals,
    whats the common theme,
    all were there before cars
    roads were built before cars, long before,
    cars took advantage, as did our emergancy services, and our infrastructure, when your loved one is in need of urgent medical care be sure you DONT go to your nearest train station, think before you re-act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 700.

    If Mo Farah's backing this then so do I, I mean who could dispute his in-depth knowledge on the matter

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    If I threaten to change my mobile phone from Virgin to Orange will Mr Branson offer to let me use it for free whilst I compare tariffs ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    This man obviously believes his own publicity.

    Or something.

    And simply cannot understand why everybody else shouldn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    you say say first will give better wifi and better trains they will be using virgins old trains so it will be the same wifi and same trains no matter who gets it people will still use them because we need to get places virgin must ov done somthing right as all these people wont them to run it first have other lines so why give them this one to mess up again

  • rate this

    Comment number 696.

    #693 - this contract falls under EU procurement rules, which means that it has to be competitive - i.e. it can't be given to anyone without bids being submitted. The tender documents would have set out the method for evaluating bids - we did'nt hear Branson shouting then that they were unfair did we? No he lost - its sour grapes coupled with a desire for self publicity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 695.

    687.687.century ng

    Actually, no.
    You fail to factor in the price of the roads that WE ALL pay for, the NHS costs of the thousands of vehicle casualties, road policing, the polution you create that adds further to the NHS bill.

    As the government's preferred transport solution, you are subsidised far more than railways. Give us facts not car rants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    and to add to 687,
    i was born in Crewe, still live in Crewe, i have seen the rail industry all my life and have wittnessed the incopetence of B R, and the mis-management of network rail, and seen billions of pounds of subs poured into an industry that still provides little value for money, i still hear the sounds of trains every day, wishing that my vocation could have a scrap of that cash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 693.

    if I know anything about management - and that is financial management - they always go for the bottom line. In this case they saw the big number from First Group, listened to all their big promises and duly awarded the contract - purely on the basis that FG said they would pay out so much more money - there may be even some arcane rule somewhere that states they *must* take the highest bid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 692.

    I travelled the route before virgin came in and the improvement when they took over was massive, it was nice to feel that anything other than 1st class meant something other than cattle class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 691.

    I personally believe that there are some people in high positions who are jealous of Branson. He should had had the lottery franchise and gave a better tender than Camelot. Now the west coast line is being taken away from him. I use the VWC line often and think Virgin is the best rail company in the UK. Branson has the imagination, dedication and skill to deliver excellent services.

  • rate this

    Comment number 690.

    Free markets maximise economic welfare. No reason at all for Virgin to have a god given right to the trains. If a market participant can offer lower fares, better trains, more seats, good wifi etc it's likely Virgin could have done the same, but hasn't as it felt no competitive threat.

    This is the correct decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 689.

    Jamie Oliver? Mo Farrah? Lord Sugar(daddy)? A scooter rider, a runner and a Rolls Royce passenger know all about transport infrastructures and running railways do they? If these a cross section of Bransons' advisor then it is most definately time to re-nationalise the railways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 688.

    FirstGroup's West Coast franchise bid appears on the face of it to be a great deal for the taxpayer. However, common sense would suggest that perhaps it's just too good to be true given its optimistic growth assumptions set against the overall economic outlook. If it proceeds I fear the DfT will learn another costly lesson at our expense - deals that look too good to be true usually are!

  • rate this

    Comment number 687.

    my car tax added to all others along to my fuel duty added to all others along with insurance duty added togother along with V.A.T from parts, servicing and mot checks adds up to far more than is spent on roads, cars are cheaper to run, milage and infrastructure wise than rails, yet still far over priced in comparison, give us facts not railroad rants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 686.

    My daughters travel down to both Bristol and Bath on Great Western trains which are overcrowded, old and poorly serviced inside. The staff are rude and unhelpful and the stations smell like urinals.
    I travel on Virgin trains. The trains are superb, fast, plenty of comfortable seats, great services inside like food/drink.The staff are helpful and customer focussed.
    So no comparison,eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 685.

    The "service" provided by 1st at our local station is appalling, but it is good to see Branson whining when he doesn't get his own way!

  • rate this

    Comment number 684.

    "Poor Journalism"... I must agree, I have noticed a marked deterioration in standards with incorrect and misleading headlines and errors due to lack of subject understanding in a number of stories recently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 683.

    I agree VWC is providing fantastic service and professional when compared to other train companies, but the truth is, this route is "profitable" for any company to run and virgin is trying very hard to keep with in their hands. I travel very often as business and personal, but this is not affordable for common man to use as they charge abnormal(booking & time) and ONLY good for business travelers.


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