Virgin Trains will fail in its bid to hang on to the West Coast Main Line franchise, the new Transport Secretary has insisted.
Patrick McLoughlin, in one of his first Commons appearances since taking over the Transport brief in last week’s reshuffle, said he had no intention of reviewing the decision to hand the franchise to rival operator FirstGroup.
And speaking to MPs, he said he had “powers vested in the Secretary of State” to keep the line operating even if a threatened judicial review bought by Virgin delayed plans to hand the service over to FirstGroup on December 9.
The comments suggested he had ruled out Virgin’s offer to continue running the line for “free” – giving its profits to charity – while the row is resolved.
The Government already has its own rail operating company, called Directly Operated Railways, which was created in 2009 to take responsibility for the East Coast Main Line after the franchise holder on that route backed out.
Mr McLoughlin was speaking to the Transport Select Committee about the ongoing row with followed his department’s decision to award the franchise for inter-city trains on the West Coast Main Line, including services from Birmingham to London and Manchester, to FirstGroup.
The decision has been attacked by Virgin, which has run the line since 1997 but lost the competition for the next franchise.
Mr McLoughlin said he would not review the decision, telling MPs: “Two companies went to huge amounts of effort to win that bid and it was judged fairly by the Department and it is our intention to proceed with the bid that FirstGroup have made.”