Branson Goes Berserk as Virgin Loses Rail Franchise

By Gary Cutlack on at

Virgin boss Richard Branson has taken to doing a bit of angry blogging, launching an attack on the government for handing Virgin's prize West Coast Main Line train franchise to rival operator FirstGroup.

Branson's furious blog post claims the decision is madness and is likely to end in the winning bidders running into financial trouble, due to them bidding more than it's possible to pay while maintaining a decent level of service; the same issue that caused National Express and GNER to lose their East Coast line contracts when they ran out of cash.

Branson said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. When will the Department for Transport learn?"

"Under our stewardship, the West Coast Mainline has been transformed from a public liability into a valuable asset for the UK, worth many billions of pounds. The service is a British success story and one to put up against rail companies around the world. It is a great shame that such a strong track record has been discounted in the evaluation process for one of the UK’s most important infrastructure assets. The country's passengers, taxpayers and the West Coast employees deserve better."

It does seem extremely mean of the government to kick out Virgin Trains. The company has done a good job of modernising its stretch of the line, and its trains, while other sections rot away. Snatching it away and handing it over to someone else now the tough work's already been done isn't much of a reward for Virgin's investment.

Virgin's been running the West Coast rail franchise for some 15 years, claiming to have doubled passenger numbers over that time and stealing a lot of traffic from the East Coast line. Virgin bid around £5.5bn £6bn to run the line, with FirstGroup pledging around £6.5bn to £7bn instead. That extra billion was enough to get the government to ditch Branson's trains for its rival in these cash-strapped times.

FirstGroup says it'll be improving things, though, sticking on 11 new 125mph trains on the Birmingham-Scotland stretch, as well as making the crowd-pleasing promise of faster Wi-Fi across the network. FirstGroup takes control of Virgin's line this December and has a 13-year run at making a go of it. [Virgin via Telegraph]