Scotland politics

West Coast Main Line: Brown calls for urgent talks on scrapped deal

Virgin train
Image caption Virgin lost the West Coast franchise in the summer

Scotland's Transport Secretary Keith Brown has called for urgent talks over a decision to scrap a deal to award the West Coast Main Line rail franchise.

The Department for Transport said there had been mistakes in the awarding of the route to Aberdeen-based FirstGroup.

It added that some departmental staff had been suspended and all rail franchising processes put on hold.

In Scotland that affects not only the Glasgow to London route, but possibly the future ScotRail franchise.

Mr Brown told BBC Scotland that there were now uncertain times ahead for some of the country's key rail routes.

Two reviews have been ordered by the UK government into what happened with the multi-billion-pound West Coast Main Line process and the bid will be re-run.

The estimated cost of the mistakes could be £40m, the UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said.

FirstGroup had been awarded the West Coast franchise ahead of Virgin Trains, which currently runs the line.

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Media captionKeith Brown: "We once again had no advance notice of this."

The new operator was due to take over at the end of the year after winning the 13-year deal.

Mr Brown said train passengers would be worried about the future of the service.

The West Coast route serves 31 million people travelling between London, the West Midlands, the north west of England, North Wales and the central belt of Scotland.

The August announcement that Aberdeen-based FirstGroup would take over train services on the line - one of Britain's busiest - in December had sparked a legal challenge from Virgin, which has run the franchise since 1997.

The Department for Transport said because of the decision to rerun the bidding process it would no longer be contesting the judicial review launched by Virgin Trains in the High Court.

Asked what clarity there was about the future of the West Coast Main Line, Mr Brown said there was "absolutely none", adding it was unclear who would be running the line after December.

The minister told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We had no advance notice of this decision being made. Obviously it does have implications for the line itself, whether they are going to continue to run it through Virgin, whether they are going to run it themselves as they are doing with the East Coast Main Line."

When asked who he would prefer to see running the line, Mr Brown said: "I think what I would like to do is be involved in that discussion with the UK government to say what is best for rail users in Scotland.

"It's a critically important service, along with the East Coast Main Line, so I think we would like to be involved in that discussion.

"But the most critical factor is that the services continue and some of the uncertainty that has now been created is eliminated."

Early talks

He also said the situation raised doubts about the franchise for the ScotRail service.

The current deal runs until 2014 and Mr Brown said the DfT "appear to have suspended all franchising".

He said: "We are very concerned about where this leaves us with the ongoing franchise for the ScotRail bid.

"We're at a very critical stage in that franchising process and yet we are being told today, or at least hearing on the airwaves, that the process is being suspended."

Mr Brown insisted: "We cannot wait around to look at a review which takes a number of months. I would like to have early dialogue with the UK government about how we go forward."

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