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Virgin face a battle to hold onto Manchester’s train route to the capital

By Charlotte Duncker

Manchester commuters to the capital could soon be experiencing a new train service if foreign bids on the Virgin Rail-owned line are successful.

Ownership of the West Coast mainline franchise is up for renewal at the end of this year and the Department of Transport is accepting bids on the vital Manchester to London route.

At a recent seminar there was interest from a number of foreign competitors. Bids are expected from Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, Spain’s Renfe, Abellio of the Netherlands and it is believed Italy’s Trenitalia is also interested in taking the franchise from current owners Virgin Rail Group.

Jim Rowe, Virgin’s Senior Communications Manager, stressed the importance of winning the bid.

He told MM: “We definitely don’t want to lose it. We have invested over £1 billion pounds on the franchise and even Richard Branson has invested his time to make it better. We’ve learnt a lot over the past 14 years and we are determined to provide the best service for the taxpayer.”

Each of the foreign competitors successfully run rail networks in their respected countries and could soon be expanding to the British Rail Network. Some commuters seem disgruntled with the idea of a foreign company taking the franchise from a British company.

Sue Eardley, a regular commuter from Trafford said: “I’m really happy with the service that Virgin provide and don’t really like the idea of foreign companies becoming involved with our rail service.”

But this view is not held by everybody. Mr Bale from Didsbury said: “I hope one of the foreign companies gets it as their service is exceptional and perhaps they would be able to solve some of the problems that I currently encounter on Virgin trains.”

The line which runs down the whole of the West Coast has been run by Virgin Rail for the past 14 years and they are determined to maintain the franchise after providing such a successful route.

Tony Collins CEO confirmed that customer numbers have doubled to over 28 million in the time Virgin have been running it.

A decision on the franchise will be made in December this year before the start of the new franchise in April 2012.

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