Press release

Department for Transport to negotiate with Virgin on temporary operation of West Coast rail services

Virgin to remain as operator while a competition is run for an interim franchise agreement.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


The Department for Transport will negotiate with Virgin Rail Group for them to continue providing rail services on the West Coast Main Line for a temporary period.

The current franchise is due to expire on 9 December after which it is the government’s intention that Virgin remain as operator for a short period - expected to be between 9 and 13 months - while a competition is run for an interim franchise agreement. This interim agreement, which would be open to any bidders, will then run until the new long term West Coast franchise is ready to commence.

The government believes that this is the best way to ensure services are maintained and that there is no impact on passengers.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:

The cancellation of the InterCity West Coast franchise is deeply regrettable and I apologise to the bidders involved and the taxpayer who have a right to expect better.

My priority now is to fix the problem and the first step is to take urgent action to ensure that on the 9 December services continue to run to the same standard and passengers are not affected.

I believe Virgin remaining as operator for a short period of time is the best way to do this and my officials and I will be working flat out to make this happen.

On 3 October the previous competition to run trains on this line was cancelled following the discovery of significant technical flaws in the way the franchise process was conducted.

The department also paused the on-going franchise programme including live competitions on Essex Thameside, Great Western and Thameslink and set up two independent reviews into what went wrong with the West Coast competition and the wider DfT rail franchise programme.

Notes to editors

The Transport Secretary has ordered two independent reviews.

The first will be an urgent independent examination into the lessons to be learned from the department’s handling of West Coast competition. Conducted by independent advisers and overseen by Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw and former PricewaterhouseCoopers strategy chairman Ed Smith, both Department for Transport non-executive directors, this review will look as soon as possible at what happened and why with a view to delivering an initial report by the end of October.

The second independent review will be undertaken by Eurostar chairman Richard Brown CBE, and examine the wider rail franchising programme. It will look in detail at whether changes are needed to the way risk is assessed and to the bidding and evaluation processes, and at how to get the other franchise competitions back on track as soon as possible. This will report back by the end of December.

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Published 15 October 2012