Posted 22nd August 2012 | 13 Comments

Protests mount over West Coast decision

AN E-PETITION urging the Government to rethink its decision to award the Intercity West Coast franchise to FirstGroup is gaining momentum, with almost 29,000 online signatures recorded by Wednesday morning.

At least two other petitions making the same point have been started but rejected because they are duplicates.

It's been understood that the contract to run the intercity services between London, Birmingham, Manchester, Holyhead and Scotland has not yet been signed, although the choice of FirstGroup was announced a week ago. Sources say that the official 'signing day' will be Tuesday 28 August, and that Virgin will have until then to decide whether to petition for a judicial review.

It's also known that both the Transport and Public Accounts Select Committees in the House of Commons are concerned about the implications of awarding a £5.5 billion contract, based on present values, to FirstGroup. Virgin's comparable bid was worth £4.8 billion.

In a blog on the Virgin website, Sir Richard said: "Overwhelming majority agree West Coast Main Line decision is wrong." Virgin has attracted many messages of support, but there are some critical notes as well.

In a separate development, Virgin has announced plans to run flights between London and Manchester and also between London and Scotland, which would represent new competition for West Coast rail services as well as the airline bmi.

FirstGroup, meanwhile, has defended the Government's choice. A spokesman said: "As a result of our plans, customers travelling with us will use faster brand new trains with more seats, serving more destinations than the current service."

The contract involves a core period of 13 years and 4 months, with a possible extension to 15 years. Virgin has been running the service since it was transferred from British Rail in March 1997. It had been due to end in March this year, but was extended to December to give the Department for Trabnsport more time in which to relet the contract.

As things stand, Virgin is one of three defeated bidders. The others were the Dutch state rallway, which trades here as Abellio, and a partnership between the French state railway SNCF and Keolis.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Andrew Pring, Stowmarket

    Just had the "pleasure" of using the FirstGroups service from Reading to Penzance. Should or realised it was the close of the Reading Festivile! However, the whole experience was just appalling. If I were to be caught up in transporting 6000 head of cattle it would of been a better experience. Utter chaos, staff who didn't know what they were doing and didn't care. Police who were clearly under briefed and under staffed. Under resourced capacity and filthy dirty accommodation with standing room only.

    Have used Vigin for over 10 years and it has always been a pleasure, on time, clean and value for money.

    If Virgin do eventually loose the franchise I guess the worst case sanario is that the FirstGroup will no doubt be bust within 24 months (as they clearly do not have a clue), shame we have to inflict this incompedence and arrogance on to the Bristish population and visitors to this country.

    Oh well, all part of the potlical cesspit of life!

  • Mike Hunt, Penrith

    Good riddance Dicky! I see you've thrown your teddy out of the pram 'cos you didn't get it all your own way again. How ironic one of the biggest proponents of the free market has been stuffed by the basic principle for which he shouts so loudly. How do you like it up you, old man?

    This is the bloke that doesn't like competition on his patch He did the dirty on Wrexham & Shropshire by setting up a taxpayer subsidised service to put them out of business, but wouldn't let W&S run into Euston.

    Short memory Sir Beardy? Was it not you who axed through services to Blackpool, Telford etc., on grounds of cost and at great inconvenience to thousands?

    All very well trumpeting fast end to end times, but what about people from Crewe wanting to get to Scotland. Every time I make that journey it's on a cramped stinky Voyager, because your half empty Pendo's don't stop south of Warrington. What a stupid idea that is!

    With all the big talk and big ideas you're still running short gas guzzling diesel trains under the wires from Birmingham to Scotland, and I can't get to the south west any more without the risk of being stranded at New Street, so I take the car instead!

    Come on First - let's be having longer electric trains instead, and don't forget to stop some of your Scottish Pendolino services at Crewe and Penrith.

    Oh, and a big thanks Sir Dick for all but wiping out the direct London services from Penrith. We may not be big bankers up here, but our money's the same colour and earned through an honest day's work, too!

  • Margaret Reid, Birkenhead

    Having just experienced First Rail's provision of services from Manchester Airport to Edinburgh and back, I infinitely prefer travel by Virgin trains. The First Trains had many passengers standing for much of the journey or perching on their luggage, for which there was also scant provision. As many were holiday makers it was not surprising that they needed somewhere to stow their luggage. It would have been impossible to access the buffet? several carriages away and there was one toilet for over one hundred passengers. No wonder First can run their services cheaply. The Government isn't concerned about rail passengers either.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    Funny how someone who goes on so much about free enterprise throws his train set out of the pram when he is told that its Tim O'Tooles turn to play!!

    As to the WCML that was paid for by rail users and taxpayers and not Virgin as is the case with all major upgrades. Something that the new allience system is looking to tackle by getting rail companies to invest in infrustructure as part of a longer term franchise.

    Richard Branson could have still bid for the ECML franchise but instead chooses to introduce flights from London to Manchester but given the time to and from airports its not a credible alternative to rail but just a gesture for publicity.

    I suppose loosing this franchise must have come like a Bolt out of the blue!!

  • michael gerald weinberg, Milton Keynes

    Am I the only one who will be glad to see the back of Virgin on the WCML?

  • Kris Nelson , Rickmansworth

    It is an absolute disgrace that Virgin have been cast aside like this by the government. They have turned the west coast line into something Britain can actually be proud of by spending millions on upgrading the track, stations and introduction of the tilting Pendolino train. Also it would seem the government wants First Group to run the entire British Railway network. Virgin has one franchise, West coast, First have several, First Capital Connect, First Great Western, First Scot Rail, First Hull Trains and now First West Coast. How can that be a fair system? I've travelled with Virgin several times and absolutely love the service. Equally I've travelled with First Great Western and found the experience acceptable. However, given the investment from Virgin and commitment to customer service, I think the government should scrap the First franchise and keep Virgin as the west coast operating company. It's not broken so don't try and fix it. You'll only end up breaking it. I've signed the e-petition and have shared it on Facebook to encourage as many as I can to do so. If it does not get reversed, out of principle is will not use First Group services as they will have a Monopoly on the British Railways. Madness.

  • phil gaskell, manchester

    i agree total madness not to allow virgin to carry on the west coast franchise. ok richard will make a load of dosh out of it but will not first also, they have a terrible reputation in the south west now ditching a 3 year extension. who is making the bucks out of this? look closer to home

  • Philip Russell, Carlisle

    Surely its now time for Mr Branson to accept the situation and move on, he must surely realise looking at past franchise awards like First Great Eastern and Anglia Railways both considered good operators that failed to win new deals then National Express ,great on C2C but made a total mess of East Coast, that the whole process appears pretty much a lottery which i hope one day gets replaced with something better like a coperative or a new British Rail

  • Roderick Brodie, Prestwick

    FirstGroup turned around ScotRail after the mess National Express left in 2004 to make ScotRail one of the most efficiently managed and on-time train operators in the UK. I'm certain they will do the same on the West Coast Mainline.

  • Steve Alston, Crewe

    All the petitions I've seen, especially the ones on the Virgin Trains facebook page, have been either set up by Virgin or set up by it's own staff.

    A lot of PR and Spin from Virgin Rail managers, as usual, which the naive public get drawn in by. Make no mistake, us taxpayers paid for the service improvements, the Pendolinos and the Voyagers, not the bearded billionaire.

  • Richard Ashbym, Emsworth

    I have no sympathy for Branson and Virgin whatsoever. The announcement of his new Virgin air services from Manchester to London just shows that he hasn't any real interest in railways. Seems he is just concerned to gain a monoploy of travel between London and the north. First aren't great but let them have a go. Well if all collapses that's capitalism for you and then the satet gets to run the railways for a bit just like EC. At least First will have to pay a penalty if they withdraw.

  • Tyke, Wigan

    First Chief Exec says their savings will come from taking back office customer services jobs and replacing them with frontline guards and drivers. Virgins bid had a cast iron no redudancies pledge while First only had the wooly 'we expect the headcount to be broadly similar in five years time' despite extra services and functions

  • John Ruddy, Montrose

    Dont forget that Virgin's bid also involved cuts - almost twice as much as in First's bid. if they were also being much more conservative with the premium payments, then someone somewhere was wanting to make a LOT of money out of the passengers.

    And thats the real reason why Branson is s angry.