Latest Rail News


Virgin tells MPs its WCML fight ‘not about profit’

Sir Richard Branson, giving evidence to the Commons transport select committee yesterday, argued that his campaign to overturn the Government’s decision on the West Coast franchise is not all about profit and that rival FirstGroup’s winning bid is “preposterous”.

The founder of Virgin Rail, the incumbent West Coast operator, has labelled the franchising system “flawed” and is calling for a review of the bidding process. The judge has yet to decide whether to grant a judicial review into the decision to award the contract to FirstGroup.

Sir Richard said the DfT decision to go with First was “bad for the country, bad for passengers on the West Coast mainline and bad for passengers on other lines”.

He added: “A successful West Coast franchise is vital for the country. A bad decision will impact the UK...Because the Department for Transport did not follow their own rules, the most risky bid was accepted.”

Virgin’s bid for the franchise was based on achieving an average of 7% operating margin over the course of the contract, compared to 5% from FirstGroup. But Sir Richard denied allegations that profits were his priority. He said: “The profit motive is actually not that important to me. I am lucky enough to afford breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the rest of my life.

“The First Group bid is absolutely preposterous when you examine it. It is taking the system for a ride literally.”

Virgin has raised concerns that FirstGroup’s bid promises payments to Government which are too high, based on unachievable passenger growth, which could lead to the company defaulting on the contract.

But chief executive of FirstGroup, Tim O’Toole, said: “I don’t see any chance of us handing the keys back. We have been in the rail business for a long time. I like to think we are very good at it.”

He added that “no business who cares about their reputation – where this is a core part of it – would so cynically manipulate the process such that they would throw away their prospects of continuing to be in the business longer term”.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


Boldfield   11/09/2012 at 12:54

Has any one checked that the WCML has the capacity for the forecast growth and the extra direct trains?

Captain Caveman   21/09/2012 at 09:00

Boldfield - yes, plenty of people. Do you really think the whole industry has just guessed? Network Rail, the DfT, all of the bid teams (independently)...... First weren't the only operator to be promising new services, I'm pretty sure they all did, including Virgin. There's more space on the WCML than we've generally been led to believe. In the short term that might appear to undermine the business case for HS2, but HS2 isn't a short term plan. By the time that's ready, the 'heritage' WCML will be full again.

Add your comment


Rail industry Focus

View all News


The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >

Most Read

'the sleepers' blog

On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

29/06/2020On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

Following an independent audit, Sulzer’s Nottingham Service Centre has been accepted as part of the rail industry supplier approval scheme (RISAS). The accreditation reinforces the high-quality standards that are maintained by Sulzer’s... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio 4's BBC’s flagship news programme that he would not rule out his organisation issuing future r... more >
Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

08/05/2019Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

In answering the pressing questions of how current and future generations of managers can provide solutions to high-profile infrastructure projects across the UK, Pearson Business School, part of... more >