Chief of Virgin Trains in plea to keep rail franchise

The chief executive of Virgin Trains today called for the company to be allowed to keep running services on the West Coast Main line in the wake of the franchise fiasco.

Tony Collins
Chief executive of Virgin Trains, Tony Collins

Tony Collins, who lives in Sedgley, said Virgin should be allowed to continue operating the busiest rail line in Britain “for as long as required” even though its franchise is due to come to an end on December 9.

The offer comes in the wake of the government tearing up its decision to strip Virgin of the franchise and award a 13-year deal to rival FirstGroup.

Three civil servants in the Department for Transport have been suspended.

The government has admitted it made mistakes and has agreed to refund £40 million to Virgin, FirstGroup and two other firms.

Virgin Rail chairman Sir Richard Branson was due to challenge the decision in the High Court until the DfT pulled the plug.

Vindicated

Mr Collins said: “We feel vindicated. We took a lot of stick from ministers over our legal challenge but had the courage to stick to it. We want the investigation to be as thorough as it can be.”

There is talk of the West Coast line being re-nationalised from December 9, moving to the government’s Directly Operated Railways, similar to a process on the East Coast Main Line.

But Mr Collins said Virgin should continue running the West Coast line, which runs through Stafford, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Dudley and Birmingham.

He said: “DOR is a group of four people. On the East Coast they stepped into an established operating franchise. They can’t get themselves ready in just a couple of months on the West Coast.

“We’re prepared to work with the government to make sure the service continues properly. There must be no risk of the same mistakes being made again.”