Irate Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson is accusing the government of discarding its own rules after the Manchester to London West Coast main line franchise was lost to rivals FirstGroup.
Virgin Trains have launched a judicial review of the Department for Transport’s decision to strip them of the contract and award the £7billion 13-year deal to their competitors – despite Sir Richard’s company running the line since 1997.
And MPs were told that their system is ‘flawed’ and their ‘preposterous’ decision will have severe negative repercussion for millions of passengers across the entire rail network.
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.”
He also warned the government against running franchise process that cause an unnecessary risk of disruption for passengers, and claimed that their interests should ‘be at the heart’ of the bidding progression.
Sir Richard wants the review to investigate the entire decision, rules and regulations for the franchise – as well as delaying the handover of the West Coast line until the probe is complete.
Sir Richard said: “This bid by FirstGroup is absolutely preposterous. It’s completely ridiculous. It’s taking the system for a ride.”
But Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng accused Virgin’s move to take legal actions as ‘bringing in heavy artillery’ and was utilising Sir Richard’s ‘prestige and fame’ to further their actions.
However, the British billionaire defended his company and claimed that Virgin has ‘created a number of ventures with the principle aim of making a real difference to those sectors’.