Sir Richard Branson unleashes his lawyers after losing rail franchise to FirstGroup
SIR Richard Branson has taken his battle to save his West Coast Main Line rail franchise to the courts.
• Virgin Trains want the decision to be re-examined
• FirstGroup awarded contract to run West Coast line
• More than 100,000 sign petition against decision
Earlier this month, the government announced that Virgin Trains had lost out to transport company FirstGroup in the bidding war to run a new 13-year West Coast franchise from
Sir Richard reacted angrily to the decision, branding the bidding process “insane” and threatening to end all involvement with the railways.
Yesterday, Virgin Trains said it was starting court proceedings as it believed the procurement process had “ignored the substantial risks to taxpayers and customers of delivering FirstGroup’s bid over the course of the franchise”.
Virgin now hopes that its legal challenge will delay the imminent final signing of the franchise contract by Transport Secretary Justine Greening.
Labour and the House of Commons Transport Committee have supported Sir Richard’s call for a delay to the signing so the matter could be properly debated.
Sir Richard said: “We had hoped that parliament or an external review would be able to scrutinise this badly flawed process before the franchise was signed. However, that opportunity would be denied if the Department for Transport [DfT] follows through with its determination to rush through the process before parliament returns next week.”
He added that signing off the franchise now “ignores the wishes of more than 150,000 people who signed the Downing Street e-petition in ten days, the Labour opposition, two important Commons committees and many backbench Conservative MPs who wanted a debate before the decision is taken,
not a post-mortem
Sir Richard added: “We have not taken this decision lightly, but it is the only course now available to try to unravel this sorry
Virgin Trains Ltd (VTL) said: “We have tried for three weeks to get clarity over the DfT’s
decision and to have a number of key questions answered. On each occasion, we have been
Responding to news of the legal challenge, FirstGroup said: “We have every confidence in the DfT’s process which is rigorous, detailed and fair, and in which bids are thoroughly tested. There has been no complaint about the process, which was carefully described in advance, until Virgin Rail Group lost commercially.
“Our plans for the new InterCity West Coast franchise include faster journeys, new trains, more seats and more direct services from London than currently on offer.”
Virgin’s legal challenge is an application for a judicial review of the decision. The firm lodged papers at the High Court in London yesterday and a hearing will be held in due course.
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