Government admits ‘flaws’ in West Coast Main Line bidding

West Coast Main Line

Transport Secretary reopens franchise bidding process after successful challenge by Virgin Trains

LAST UPDATED AT 07:56 ON Wed 3 Oct 2012

THE Government has announced it will reopen the bidding process for the West Coast Main Line after conceding it allowed "significant technical flaws" into its calculations which resulted in the franchise being handed to FirstGroup at the expense of Virgin Trains.

The admission puts Richard Branson's bid to continue running the service back in play. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin called the mistakes over passenger number projections and revenue calculations "deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable".

McLoughlin has ordered two independent reviews, reports The Daily Telegraph: one into what went wrong with the West Coast competition process, and the second into the "wider rail franchise programme".

On his online blog, Branson wrote: "From the moment we found out that FirstGroup had been made the preferred bidder with a completely unrealistic bid, we questioned the way the offers had been assessed, and asked Government to review and explain how it came to its decision. We were convinced the process was flawed but despite our best efforts we were met with silence by the Department for Transport."

The Daily Mail calls the process "arguably the biggest and most embarrassing shambles on Britain’s railways since the collapse of Railtrack more than a decade ago".

As it now stands, the West Coast Main Line is set to join the East Coast Main Line under Government control when the Virgin franchise runs out in December.

Last night, Branson said he hoped the Government would let him continue to run the line: "I am pleased to say that the DfT has looked at all of the facts and found significant flaws in the way its officials handled the process. They have basically acknowledged that what we had been saying is correct."

Until McLoughlin's announcement that the government would not contest Virgin's legal challenge, FirstGroup was still expecting to take over the running of the line in December, says The Scotsman. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.