A DECISION to allow Virgin Trains to operate the West Coast Main Line for the next two years will provide ‘stability’ to services, an MP claims.
Tim Farron welcomed the latest twist in the saga over who gets to run the UK’s busiest rail route following the Department for Transport’s bungled handling of the bidding process.
Mistakes by staff in his department forced Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to cancel the decision to take the contract from Virgin and hand it to rival operator FirstGroup.
Virgin was given a short-term lease to continue running the line while the fiasco was sorted.
An inquiry into the collapse of the bidding process found that the department used a ‘flawed’ method to calculate the amount of risk capital bidders would have to offer to guarantee their proposals.
FirstGroup had been due to start the new contract this month until the problems became clear, but now Virgin has been granted a 23-month extension to its short-term contract, taking it to November 9, 2014.
Mr Farron said: “I am extremely relieved that we will now have some stability in the service on the West Coast Main Line and that passengers can be confident that their trains will continue to run.
“However there are still some concerns that with such a short term contract, there is little incentive for serious investment to see improvements along the line.”
Meanwhile, Mr McLoughlin announced a new hourly service between Glasgow and London to improve levels of service for passengers in the South Lakes.
Mr Farron described the boost as ‘an important step forward for passengers in the South Lakes’.
He added: “It is vital the Department for Transport follow through and ensure there is proper investment in the service across the board in the short term so that passengers do not lose out as a result of mistakes in Government.”
The Government will run a fresh bidding process to find a long term operator for the West Coast Main Line beyond 2014.