Blackpool could win in Virgin loss

Virgin's high speed tilting Pendolino
Virgin's high speed tilting Pendolino

A NEW Blackpool to London train service is being planned after Virgin lost the battle to continue running the West Coast Main Line.

The Government has announced that the fight to take over a new 13-year West Coast franchise had been won by giant transport company FirstGroup, which already has a number of rail franchises including Great Western and ScotRail.

It will start operating the London to Scotland West Coast line in December.

Today it announced plans for new services from Blackpool, Telford, Shrewsbury and Bolton to London.

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

But the RMT transport union warned of “massive cuts to jobs and passenger services and huge increases in fares”.

Virgin has operated the West Coast line for 15 years, introducing tilting high-speed Pendolino trains to the route and increasing passenger levels from around 13 million a year in 1997 to around 31 million a year now.

Virgin Rail is 49% owned by another giant transport company Stagecoach which said that it was disappointed that its bid with Virgin to continue running the franchise had been unsuccessful.

It said it understood that Virgin was the Department for Transport’s (DfT) second-choice bidder and that that the reason it failed to win the new franchise was “because another bidder contracted to pay significantly higher premiums to the DfT”.

FirstGroup chief executive Tim O’Toole said: “We will be making significant improvements including reduced journey times and introducing new direct services.”

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