Government poised to extend Virgin deal

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VIRGIN Trains’ contract to run the direct line connecting Lancashire with London is expected to be extended by the Government today.

According to reports, ministers are expected to announce that the firm will continue running the West Coast Main Line until after the 2015 General Election.

It is expected to form part of an announcement on how new route franchises will work after the collapse of the deal to run the West Coast line last year.

Virgin was already due to continue to run the West Coast service until November 2014, and it is expected the announcement on an extension is designed to allow more time to sort out the fresh bidding process for the line.

The initial deal to allow Virgin to run the franchise until November next year following the scrapping of the bidding process which initially saw Virgin miss out to FirstGroup.

Errors in that process were considered to be so serious that in October, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin scrapped the bidding.

Earlier this month it was announced that Virgin had submitted a bid to run two direct return services between Blackpool and the capital.

Chris Dale, of campaign group TravelWatch NorthWest, said: “It is a good thing passengers at least know who is going to be running the service for a while. But it just shows what a mess the franchising system is in and it needs a complete overhaul.

“It is not a very open process.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said they could not confirm whether ministers would make an announcement today.

In a statement, the DfT said: “The Government expects to set out its plans for future rail franchises in the spring, in line with the recommendations from an independent review by leading industry expert Richard Brown which endorsed the Government’s approach to providing train services that benefit tax payers and fare payers.”

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