FirstGroup still on track to take over on the west coast
TRANSPORT firm FirstGroup still expects to take over the running of the west coast mainline on schedule in December despite Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Rail mounting a legal challenge after losing the route.
The Aberdeen-based firm yesterday said that it was continuing to make preparations for the handover of the line, which links Glasgow to London and is currently run by a joint venture between Virgin and Perth-based Stagecoach.
FirstGroup – which already runs services including Great Western, Scotrail and the TransPennine Express – was awarded the franchise by the Department for Transport in August and said it is confident that the UK government will fend off Branson’s court challenge.
In a trading update ahead of its interim results, First – which is also the UK’s biggest bus operator – said its rail division should report an 8.1 per cent rise in like-for-like passenger revenues in the six months to 30 September, slowing from the 8.4 per cent growth experienced in the year to March.
John Lawson, an analyst at Investec, said: “FirstGroup has tried to steady the ship with an ‘in line’ update and most trading metrics look reasonably encouraging. There is no new news however on any disposals in the UK bus division and the intercity west coast rail franchise award remains blocked by the judicial process.”
FirstGroup also defended its Greyhound inter-city coach service amid reports of low passenger numbers, promising the launch of further routes in the autumn.
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