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Virgin to extend West Coast contract – McLoughlin

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has confirmed that Virgin has been asked to extend its West Coast contract for between 9-13 months whilst a new franchise competition is run.

This initial franchise will be just two years long, before the longer contract is let at the time of the general election.

McLoughlin said: “This is a regrettable outcome caused by unacceptable mistakes made by officials in my department during a complex procurement process.”

He added: “I would like to reiterate that there is no suggestion that First Group or any of the other bidders including Virgin Trains acted in anything other than good faith during the bidding process.”

McLoughlin also announced the remit for both reviews investigating the errors and their impact on the wider franchising model, and said: “Before these reviews have been completed, and particularly before the findings of the Laidlaw review have been published, any speculation as to the nature of the flaws is just that – speculation.

“I am committed to ensuring that passengers will see no impact as a result of these mistakes. Clearly we will need to learn lessons from the two reviews. And we will need to run a new competition for the West Coast franchise. I want this to happen as quickly as possible, but we want to get it right which will take time.

“Britain’s railways are a great success and I am determined that this incident does not get in the way of this Government’s real record.”

State-owned Directly Operated Railways (DOR), which runs East Coast services, will continue to “stand ready should they be required”, he added.

A spokesperson for ATOC said: “This provides passengers and the rail industry with a way forward for the Intercity West Coast franchise. 

“There is an opportunity here for the DfT to look again at its approach, particularly on risk and evaluation, and simplify the process while delivering better value for money and improved services.” 

Speaking in support for the franchising model, the spokesperson added: “With the right framework in place for franchising, train companies will continue to deliver these results.”

But Mick Whelan, ASLEF’s general secretary, said: “Only a review that is seen to be extensive, includes all interested parties and examines all options including renationalisation, will suffice.”

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