PLANS to hand the West Coast Main Line contract to FirstGroup were scrapped yesterday after the Government admitted the process that stripped Virgin Rail of the contract was flawed.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said “deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes” had been made by the department for transport and ordered two independent reviews to investigate what had gone wrong.
“A detailed examination by my officials into what happened has revealed these flaws and means it is no longer possible to award a new franchise on the basis of the competition that was held,” he said.
Mr McLoughlin said passengers could rest assured that while a resolution was sought, trains would continue to run, with the same drivers, staff and timetables and that tickets already booked would remain valid.
Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy said the decision was “clearly the right one.”
“On 17th September, in a debate in Parliament, I asked the Minister if he stood by the passenger figures in the bid and said that the contract should only be allowed on that basis,” he said. “Both myself and other MPs at that debate left the Minister in no doubt that the franchise should only be awarded if they were 100% confident in the figures. “
Mr Lefroy said it was essential any new process took all factors into consideration and said the new franchise must be in the best interests of passengers, staff and taxpayers.
“The West Coast main line is an essential artery for the nation’s transport and vital for the people of Stafford and surrounding areas.”
On his blog head of Virgin Rail Group, Sir Richard Branson, said: “We were convinced the process was flawed but despite our best efforts we were met with silence by the Department for Transport.
“We also asked for government to appoint an independent advisor to look at the situation, which was turned down. Reluctantly we were forced to seek a judicial review,” he said. “Tomorrow the Department for Transport were meant to have given their evidence to the court.”
Sir Richard said he appreciated the public acknowledgment of the errors in the process adding that he was hopeful they would now accept that Virgin Trains should carry on running the service.