Thursday, 13 September 2012

'Vague Promises' of Firstgroup

By Ben Aulakh

Virgin Trains have derided the plans of rail rivals Firstgroup to spend £350 million improving the West Coast Mainline as nothing more than ‘vague promises.’

The attack by the Richard’s Branson’s Virgin on one of the his firms biggest rail competitors, comes after the government derailed Virgin’s plans for the future of the line by awarding the new 14 year franchise to Firstgroup.

Virgin had been running the main line between London and Glasgow since the rail network was privatised in 1996.

However thanks to a legal challenge mounted by Virgin on the grounds that First’s bid was unsustainable, the Transport Select Committee is holding a hearing into the franchise award.

Virgin Trains Chief Executive Tony Collins said, “We welcome the Transport Select Committee's decision to call Virgin Rail Group and FirstGroup to a hearing on West Coast Main line.

“Virgin Trains has submitted a strong and deliverable bid on how we'll spend £800m with more commitments on new trains, new routes and new on-board services.”

“We have given a detailed account of how this would build on the huge improvements we've made over the last 15 years, while all First have done is make vague promises about spending £350m.”

Among the improvements being offered by Virgin are more seats on the Birmingham to Glasgow route, as well as faster journey times between London and Scotland.

They are also promising to replace their current Voyager train fleet with 21 6-car ‘Baby Pendolinos,’ as well as refurbishing their existing full-size Pendolino fleet.

Firstgroup are thought to have been awarded the new franchise after having tendered a higher bid, which included a higher net return in payments to the government, rumoured to be around £5.5 billion.

A spokesperson from Firstgroup said, “Our plans for the new InterCity West Coast franchise include faster journeys, new trains, more seats and more direct services from London than currently on offer.

“There will be also improved WiFi, better catering, refurbished stations and Standard Anytime Fares will be reduced by 15% on average within the first two years.”

First have also promised ‘substantial improvements in the quality and frequency of services,’ 11 new high-speed 125mph six car electric trains along the Birmingham to Glasgow route.

A decision is expected by the government before the day-to-day running of the franchise moves over on December 9.

Photograph by Andrew Butcher at

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