An extension to Virgin Trains’ franchise to run the busiest rail line in the country has still not been signed, just under a month before its existing deal runs out.
Virgin, owned by Sir Richard Branson, was set to be given up to two more years to run the West Coast mainline while the Government recreates the tender for the multi-billion pound franchise. An earlier decision to hand the line to Virgin’s rival FirstGroup was torn up because mistakes were found in the calculations of civil servants.
Virgin today said it was still in discussions with the Department for Transport and was confident that a deal would be signed in time. The existing franchise ends on December 9.
Rail union the RMT today called on the Government not to rule out re-nationalising the line.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said allowing Virgin to continue was not the answer, adding: “As a result of sheer Government incompetence, right-wing ideology and desperation Richard Branson has muscled his way in to a monopoly contractor position on Britain’s biggest rail route.
“Virgin find themselves pulling the handle on a fruit machine that’s been fixed on jackpot at every spin of the reels. It’s no wonder they don’t want to leave the arcade.”
Mistakes in the original Government’s franchise process led to it refunding £40 million to bidders. Virgin is likely to run the line for at least nine months until a new process can be started.
Virgin Trains spokesman Richard Stanton said: “We are in positive and constructive discussions with the DfT and remain committed to continuing with our West Coast operations beyond December 9. We’ve been overwhelmed by the level of support we have received from public and our staff.”