The Department for Transport has announced it will ask Virgin Trains to temporarily continue running the West Coast Mainline train service. We answer five questions on the DFT's decision.
What are the DFT planning to propose to Virgin Trains?
The DFL will ask Virgin Trains to continue running the service for another nine to thirteen months. The decision comes after the DFT accepted, then scrapped, a bid from FirstGroup to take over the running of the Scotland to London route from Virgin Trains in December, after they beat Virgin Trains in the recent bidding process.
Why do they want to extend the contract?
To avoid disrupting the service. Virgin Trains’ franchise agreement is due to expire on the 9th of December. However, after cancelling plans to allow FirstGroup to take over the contract the DFT believe in order to avoid disrupting the service Virgin Trains should be allowed to continue temporarily running the service. It is thought there will be not enough time to form a senior management group for state owned Directly Operated Railways (DOR) to take over in December.
The Transport Secretary said: "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."
What happened to FirstGroup's accepted bid?
The competition was cancelled on the 3rd of October. Flaws in the proposed bid by FirstGroup were first noticed while the DfT was preparing to contest a legal challenge by Virgin Trains to the decision not to award it the contract. It was deemed better to scrap the entire bidding process rather than risk disrupting the service.
Since then three civil servants have been suspended over the way the process was conducted and the whole debacle is expected to cost the tax payer tens of millions of pounds. The government has announced two independent reviews to focus on the West Coast competition and the wider DFT rail franchise programme.
What will happen in the long-term?
The service could be handed back to the DOR to run until another bid is accepted. Or Virgin Trains may be asked to remain the operator for another two years until a second bidding process takes place around the time of the next general election.
How long will the eventual new franchise run for?
The eventual new franchise will run for 13 years.