Counting the cost of ‘shambles’

First Capital Connect Service at King's Cross Station, London. BELOW: Richard Branson, the boss of Virgin, greets people at Euston station (bottom) Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.
First Capital Connect Service at King's Cross Station, London. BELOW: Richard Branson, the boss of Virgin, greets people at Euston station (bottom) Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.
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WITH the announcement of the scrapping of the West Coast Main Line deal, Reporter SHELAGH PARKINSON looks at the next step for Blackpool’s link to London.

Transport chiefs have been ordered back to the drawing board after flaws were found in the bidding process.

Sir Richard Branson, the boss of Virgin, greets people at Euston station.

Sir Richard Branson, the boss of Virgin, greets people at Euston station.

It means it could be many months before a new permanent operator of the vital link is appointed.

Passenger groups had hoped up to five services a day could run between Blackpool and the capital with the awarding of the contract to FirstGroup.

Virgin, which cancelled the route in May 2003 as part of a restructuring of its timetables, had also pledged to restore a link.

But now the proposals are in disarray following the collapse of the bidding process.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin

The Department of Transport (DfT) has cancelled the agreement and ordered an investigation into the process.

The Government said it was “resolving urgently” the situation, but in the meantime the future of the line - and Blackpool’s much hoped-for direct London route - is uncertain.

On top of that, tax-payers are facing a bill of up to £40m to reimburse the four companies who made bids.

The Blackpool and Fylde Rail User Group is dismayed by the outcome.

Chairman Paul Nettleton said: “This is an absolute shambles and has brought the whole franchise mechanism into question.

“We backed the bid from FirstGroup because they wanted to run five services a day direct from Blackpool to London which would be great for the town.

“We thought theirs was the right bid and the Government had made the right choice.

“Although Virgin have said they would also restore the link, we believe that could only be one service a day.”

Virgin had been running West Coast Main Line services for five years before it pulled Blackpool’s London link saying the decision had been made “in the interests of making the timetable reliable.”

But there are many who would rather see Virgin keep the franchise.

Stephen Brookes, chairman of the Blackpool Passenger Focus Panel, said; “FirstGroup does not have a great reputation for services it runs in other parts of the country.

“From the start, their bid didn’t add up.

“There was a £20m black hole in what they were going to pay the Government.”

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said he had predicted the failure of the bidding process.

He said: “This is going to cost the tax-payer £5.5m if not more.

“As for the much vaunted, Blackpool direct route to London, I think we can take it that won’t be arriving any time soon.

“Whatever the outcome of the re-run, it is going to put that back.”

Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said he was confident there would not be any disruption to existing services.

He added: “My focus is in making sure whoever takes up the franchise delivers Blackpool a new direct line to London.”

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