STAFFORD commuters will be served by Virgin Trains for another nine to 13 months after an interim agreement was announced to cover the controversial West Coast Main Line franchise.
The train operator’s current contract was set to expire on December the 9 and rivals FirstGroup set to take over after a dramatic u-turn by the Government when flaws in the bidding process came to light.
Stafford-born transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin called the cancellation of the deal for the franchise was “regrettable” and apologised to the bidders and the taxpayer, who he said had “a right to expect better.”
“My priority now is to fix the problem and the first step is to take urgent action to ensure that on the 9 December services continue to run to the same standard and passengers are not affected,” said Mr McLoughlin. “I believe Virgin remaining as operator for a short period of time is the best way to do this and my officials and I will be working flat out to make this happen.”
A spokesman for Virgin Trains said: “Our customers have made clear they want Virgin Trains to continue its excellent service and we now have the chance to deliver that and offer customers some short-term continuity.
“We will now be working hard to make sure we continue to provide the service that has made us successful. Virgin Trains is grateful for the fantastic support from customers and staff over recent months.”
Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, Mike Maryon, said the extension would reassure residents, visitors and businesses reliant on the route.
“The West Coast Main Line plays a key role in connecting Staffordshire with the rest of the UK and it is hugely important, to both residents and businesses, that we have a high quality service we can have confidence in,” he said. “It is important for Staffordshire that the Department for Transport gets this decision right and while not ideal, this temporary arrangement does mean we have guaranteed standards for well into 2013.”
“When it was announced that FirstGroup had won the bid we were promised more routes, more trains and cheaper fares – and I hope residents in Staffordshire will still get this, whoever ends up operating the franchise in the long term.”