FirstGroup hits back at Sir Richard Branson’s claims over west coast rail route
TRANSPORT Secretary Justine Greening is expected to sign a deal in the early hours of tomorrow morning to hand FirstGroup control of the west coast rail franchise, brushing aside complaints from incumbent operator Sir Richard Branson.
Branson offered to run the Glasgow-to-London route for free to give MPs the chance to scrutinise the UK government’s decision to accept a bid to run the line from FirstGroup rather than Virgin Trains, which Branson runs in partnership with Sir Brian Souter’s Stagecoach Group.
The colourful entrepreneur branded FirstGroup’s £5.5 billion bid to run the line as “insanity” after it topped Virgin Train’s £4.8bn offer.
Tim O’Toole, chief executive at Aberdeen-based FirstGroup, yesterday hit back at Branson’s claims that Westminster should delay signing the contract until MPs can examine the decision. “We can understand why Virgin is disappointed to have lost, but the fact is that under its stewardship, the west coast mainline has experienced the poorest punctuality and reliability of any route in the country whilst our franchises are all above 90 per cent,” said O’Toole.
“Virgin has also had higher levels of passenger complaints filed against it than all four of First’s franchises put together. Our job over the next 14 years will be to put that right and give passengers a railway that is good value, reliable and offers great service. That is what we intend to do.
“We are one of the country’s most experienced rail operators and have a good track record. We won the bid fair and square and we are pleased that the Department for Transport sees no reason to revisit the process.”
O’Toole’s comments came after shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle called for the signing of the contract to be delayed so MPs could scrutinise the deal.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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