Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is expected to appear before MPs when the Commons returns tomorrow to explain the costly and embarrassing U-turn over the award of a new franchise.
He has already announced a review of the “unacceptable mistakes” by officials that led to the award being halted after Virgin Trains took legal action against the decision not to renew its contract.
But shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said it was unacceptable that the probe would be headed by non- executive directors of the Department for Transport and accused ministers of pre-judging the outcome.
In a letter to McLoughlin, she warned that the taxpayer could be exposed to further legal costs if, as reported, the government gives an extension to Virgin to continue running trains while the issue is reviewed.
The risk of further action by First Group – which had been awarded the new franchise – could be avoided by the government’s own not-for-profit operator taking over in the interim, as called for by trade unions.
In her letter, Eagle said: “Considering the need to look thoroughly at the role of everyone involved in this process, including ministers and senior officials, it is difficult to see how anyone will have confidence in the conclusions reached by fellow members of the departmental board.”