The government’s bizarre decision to take the West Coast Main Line train franchise away from Virgin Trains, which infuriated boss Richard Branson no end, has fallen apart in spectacular fashion, with the whole transfer now cancelled amid claims of mass incompetence.
The idea was to end Virgin Trains’ undeniably successful running of services up the West Coast of the country in December, handing over the line and its vehicles to rival travel infrastructure company FirstGroup, which offered the government more money than Virgin was prepared to pay.
Virgin boss Branson said at the time that the sums wouldn’t add up, and that’s been proven today, with the government deciding that its people made such an amazing mess of handling the bidding process and the numbers involved that the transfer to FirstGroup is to be cancelled. Three civil servants involved in the decision have been suspended, with transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin saying the problem “lies wholly and squarely with the Department of Transport.”
In its own statement on the matter, Virgin says it will “…assist the Department for Transport in ensuring continuity of service for the millions of customers who depend on train services on the West Coast mainline,” and Branson’s latest blog update says he hopes that Virgin Trains can find a way to carry on running the West Coast Main Line services.
There’s also a sizeable hit to taxpayer funds because of the mess, with the government set to refund the £40m the rival rail companies spent on submitting their bids for the franchise in the first place. [BBC]