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‘Flawed and ridiculous’ DfT U-turn means Virgin Rail maintain West Coast Main Line contract – for now

By Dean Wilkins

The dramatic U-turn to reward Virgin Rail the West Coast Main Line from Manchester to London is expected to be announced by government tomorrow.

Sir Richard Branson branded the Department for Transport’s £40million flop as ‘preposterous and flawed’ when Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin awarded a new 13-year contract to rivals FirstGroup.

But after the Virgin chief launched a legal challenge regarding the bidding process, the contract was dropped and taxpayers were left with a colossal bill due to DfT mistakes.

Mr McLoughlin is now anticipated to give Virgin, who have ran the service since 1997, the contract on a temporary basis and publish the commissioned report into the West Coast franchise bidding process failings.

Following FirstGroup’s triumph, Sir Richard said: “The Virgin [West Coast franchise] bid is more deliverable and much more financially robust.

“The DfT did not follow their own rules. The franchise system is flawed. The decision [to award FirstGroup the franchise] is bad for the country, bad for passengers and bad for passengers on other franchises.

“This bid by FirstGroup is absolutely preposterous. It’s completely ridiculous. It’s taking the system for a ride.”

Three DfT officials were suspended after Mr McLoughling claimed unacceptable mistakes had been made – the original model did not take into account inflation and growing passenger figures.

The report was originally supposed to be presented in front of Parliament last week but one suspended official, Kate Mingay, is currently embroiled in a legal challenge following her removal.

This report will now be heard before the House of Commons tomorrow.

Picture courtesy of JamesZ, with thanks

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