Posted by Andrew Cheetham Posted on 2 May 2019

Richard Branson calls for suspension of rail franchise competitions

‘Sir Richard Branson has called for all rail franchising competitions to be suspended, as the Virgin Group and partner Stagecoach consider legal action over their disqualification from three franchise bids.

Virgin Trains faces ejection from the railways after more than 20 years of running the biggest intercity route, the west coast mainline from London to Glasgow, which will be relet to a new operator before next April.

Branson issued a thinly veiled warning of legal action, as he urged the Department for Transport to be pragmatic while recalling a previous battle over the west coast franchise, which ended with the DfT conceding defeat and reinstating Virgin.

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The government rejected criticisms of the process and said Stagecoach had repeatedly ignored established rules.

A rail review led by the former BA chief executive Keith Williams is considering extensive changes to the industry and one franchise competition, CrossCountry, has already been paused.

Branson said he had “deja vu” from the 2012 west coast franchising fiasco when the DfT defended handing over the franchise to rival FirstGroup as legally robust, before caving in and allowing Virgin to run the line ever since.

Writing on his blog, Branson said “history appears to be repeating itself”, after the DfT barred Stagecoach, the Virgin Group’s joint venture partner in Virgin trains, from bidding for three franchises due to be decided this year in a row over rail staff pensions. The franchises are InterCity West Coast, East Midlands and Southeastern.’

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