Department for Transport said ‘interim agreement’ would run until new long-term franchise agreement is in place. Ministers have rejection re-nationalisation option

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Rail unions have sharply criticised the announcement that Virgin will continue to operate the West Coast mainline for at least another nine months, to fill the franchise gap caused by the fiasco over rival First Group’s £5.5bn bid to run the UK’s busiest intercity rail service.

In a statement issued to the London Stock Exchange, the Department for Transport said the ‘interim agreement’ would run until a new long-term franchise agreement is in place.

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

It means ministers and officials had rejected a separate option to recall the franchise altogether and take the service into public ownership, as transport unions had suggested.

Had they done so, it would have meant the two main lines connecting London to the north of England and Scotland would have been effectively re-nationalised.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow, said: “This announcement is no surprise.

“The government are ideologically opposed to public ownership of the railways and, in collusion with the private train operators, have stitched up a shabby deal that will enable them to rerun the whole franchise fiasco in a year’s time.

“Richard Branson and his shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank.

“Not only have they made hundreds of millions from the rail privatisation lottery but they have now scooped the rollover as well.”

The West Coast route carries more than 30m passengers a year between London, the West Midlands and north-west England, North Wales and Scotland.

The competition to run the line was cancelled on 3 October and led to the suspension of other scheduled franchise renewals, including bids for Essex Thameside, Great Western and Thameslink.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, said: “This decision means that the long-running Whitehall farce, known as private rail franchising, continues at the taxpayer’s expense.”

The Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, is due to make a statement to MPs this afternoon.


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