Virgin Rail gets extension on West Coast Main Line

Patrick McLoughlin to unveil a revised timetable for rail franchising.

New Statesman
A Virgin train passing along the West Coast mainline route. Photograph: Getty Images.

The British Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is expected to unveil a revised timetable for rail franchising before the parliament tomorrow in an effort to draw a line for the West Coast fiasco.

The new schedule is expected to include a further extension for Virgin Rail on the West Coast Main Line that will take the contract beyond the general election in 2015.

The West Coast main line contract was cancelled in October 2012 due to technical defects in the bidding process.

The extension would allow ministers to announce plans to return the East Coast mainline to the private sector. Bidding for the West Coast contract is likely to begin in 2013 and successful bidder may be handed over work by the end of 2014.

McLoughlin told the Financial Times: “I think we need to look at the mistakes that were made but then move on. I think franchising had done a huge amount for the railway industry . . . When Beeching was published it was ‘the end of the railways’ . . . If you look at today’s railways they are massively important to the infrastructure of the country.”

Earlier, Virgin Rail was given an extension to the West Coast franchise until the end of 2014.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has urged the government to retain East Coast line under its control to use it as a benchmark for other privately run franchises.

The initial part of the new schedule of tenders is expected to include two competitions that were scrapped in the wake of West Coast failure, according to FT.

The tender process for the Essex Thameside franchise may begin as early as June. The restructured Thameslink competition is expected to be hired as a management contract for up to eight years rather than a franchise.

Virgin Rail is a joint venture between Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group, and Stagecoach.