VIRGIN Trains could continue operating the West Coast Main Line for another year after the Government’s contract blunder, it emerged today.
The Department for Transport has asked the company to carry on running the route for up to 13 months after last week’s revelation that serious errors were made in a bidding process which led to Virgin being stripped of the contract after 15 years.
Rival company FirstGroup won the franchise and was due to take over the line, which links Cumbria to London, in December.
But Virgin is staying on track for at least another nine months, while the Government runs a competition for an interim agreement.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “The canellation 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 December 9, services continue to run to the same standard and passengers are not affected.”
Virgin Trains, owned by Sir Richard Branson, mounted a legal challenge after FirstGroup was given the contract.
It was in preparation of the court battle that the Government found what it described as ‘unacceptable’ mistakes made during consideration of the two bids, relating to the way risk had been calculated.
As a result, the decision to give the contract to FirstGroup was cancelled and, today, Virgin Trains was asked to continue running services on the route.
A Virgin Trains spokesman said: “Customers have made it clear that they want Virgin to continue. We are delighted to have the chance to continue delivering our excellent service.”