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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

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Virgin loses West Coast rail franchise

Virgin Rail has lost the franchise to run the West Coast Mainline running from Carlisle to London and Glasgow.

Virgin train photo
A Virgin train

Rival transport company FirstGroup, which already runs trains into Cumbria, has instead been handed the job to run the service for 13 years.

Rail union RMT said it would mount a “massive industrial, political and public campaign” to stop any attack on jobs.

Virgin employs 65 people based at Carlisle, plus eight at Penrith and 11 at Oxenholme, near Kendal.

FirstGroup chief executive Tim O’Toole said the company was delighted to win the franchise, saying: “We will be making significant improvements including reduced journey times and introducing new direct services.”

The company already has two franchises running trains through this area.

First TransPennine runs services from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Manchester Airport, via Carlisle.

ScotRail runs the line from Carlisle to Glasgow, via Dumfries. It also provides an overnight sleeper car service between Scotland and Carlisle.

The red livery of Virgin Trains has been a familiar sight in the county since 1997.

Their trains have swept along the West Coast Main Line between London and Glasgow, stopping at Carlisle and Penrith.

Virgin introduced tilting high-speed Pendolino trains to the route and increased passenger levels from about 13m a year in 1997 to about 31 million a year now.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, has threatened to walk away from the rail industry, saying he is “extremely disappointed”.

He said: “We submitted a strong and deliverable bid based on improving customers’ experience, increased investment and sustained innovation.

“To have bid more would have involved dramatic cuts to customer quality and considerable fare rises which we were unwilling to entertain.”

Rail minister Theresa Villiers said the new franchise would deliver “big improvements for passengers, with more seats and plans for more services”.

The deal will see the introduction, from December 2016, of 11 new six-car electric trains which will enable more seats to be provided across the franchise.

FirstGroup has also committed to cut the cost of West Coast standard anytime fares by an average of 15 per cent within the first two years.

The DfT said the franchise deal was worth £5.5 billion over the lifetime of the contract. The new franchise will begin on December 9 and will run for 13 years and four months.

Mr O’Toole said improvements would include “refreshed and improved train interiors, station upgrades and even better catering.”

He added First West Coast would continue to invest in frontline staff and looked forward to welcoming new employees.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the franchise was being let “with a gold-plated, extended contract linked to massive cuts to jobs and passenger services and huge increases in fares as the winning FirstGroup looks to extract every penny that they can in profit”.

Cumbrian MP Tim Farron said he was seeking “an urgent meeting with FirstGroup”.

Have your say

Interesting that Virgin are planning to start to operate a domestic air service. I wonder how that will affect rail demands for those wishing to travel from London to Scotland. I hope it isn't detrimental to the intermediate places such as Carlisle, unless of course we do finally get air links to other parts of the country!....

Posted by city resident on 21 August 2012 at 12:14

Alan. Yes, Virgin has being at forefront of British train journeys but not the worlds leaders for cheaper speedy rail transportation. Virgins new venture into UK short-haul flights won't benefit some rail journeys. HM Government have just replayed into businessman Richard Branson. The cats got the cream with First Group now looking perhaps to a sour future. High-speed rail threats of not stopping at Carlisle's Citadel Station is still looming and not yet settled? Railways have been going downhill in the UK since the popularity of motorways, motor vehicles such as car, besides Beeching's axing many popular routes and the Mallard steam engine breaking a speed record under British Rail. Perhaps now with soon further under FirstGroup with sooner or later a operational regional Carlisle Lakes Airport which hopefully will be a new Cumbrian doorstep tapping into worldly tourist's visiting the north's finest country with all its renowned merits. FirstGroup being screwed up on two fronts? Even former war theatres don't like fighting battles this way... Is it not with calculus with so many transportation fronts that the Government and FirstGroup have got it all wrong in the limelight of Sir Richard Branson's new venture? Cards now it seems say snap! Pay up time soon? Rail Passenger pay's up....

Posted by royl on 21 August 2012 at 09:24

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