Sir Richard Branson tantrum pays off as Virgin Rail retain Manchester to London West Coast contract for 23 months

By Dean Wilkins

Throwing tantrums may not usually get you what you want but for Sir Richard Branson it retained the Manchester to London West Coast Main Line for Virgin Rail following a government U-turn.

The British billionaire’s tirade against the Department for Transport’s decision to award rivals FirstGroup a 13-year contract resulted in the government scrapping the bid leaving a £40million hole to be filled by taxpayers.

The Virgin boss threatened DfT with legal action after losing the West Coast franchise, which his company has run since 1997, and was today handed control of the line for a further 23 months by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Mr McLoughlin said: “We are determined to ensure not only that passengers continue to experience the same levels of service they have in the past, but that services improve.

“There will be a new hourly service linking Glasgow and London and we will also work with Virgin Trains to explore other service improvements.

“I am also extremely pleased that passengers will benefit from up to 28,000 more seats daily thanks to the delivery of 106 new Pendolino carriages on to the West Coast line which has happened on budget and ahead of schedule.”

A report was commissioned by Mr McLoughlin into the failings of the DfT, who oversaw the bidding process, after it was revealed that the department did not consider increases in inflation and passenger numbers when awarding the contract.

Sir Richard launched a scathing attack after the decision, branding it ‘insane, ridiculous and preposterous’.

And newly elected Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell branded the entire process a complete ‘shambles’, ridiculing the government for wasting nearly three years of rescoures.

Lucy Powell MP for Manchester Central, and new member of the Transport Select Committee, told MM: “It is clear what a complete shambles this whole affair has been. Valuable time as well as millions of pounds have been lost.

“The frequent, fast and reliable trains provided by West Coast Mainline service are critical to the Greater Manchester economy.

“With nearly three years delay until the new franchise will be on track, vital investment decisions will put the service in serious jeopardy. Something our economy can ill afford.

“The government have serious questions to answer and someone should take responsibility for it, urgently.”


But John Leech, South Manchester Liberal Democrat MP and Transport Select Committee member, welcomed the announcement until a new franchise takes place.

“This announcement give us time to get the franchise process right,” he said. “I have long argued that past performance should be taken into account when deciding whether a contract is awarded, and that proper independent scrutiny should be made before a contract is awarded.

“I am lobbying for the government to change the rules to make the awarding of contracts more transparent and less dependent on who offers the most money.”

For more on this story and many others, follow Mancunian Matters on Twitter and Facebook.

Related Articles