EAST LANCASHIRE politicians of all parties have told the government to ensure that the next decision on who runs the West Coast Main Line is made properly after its ‘embarrassing’ £40 million U-turn yesterday.
The last minute decision made just hours before Virgin Trains’ bid to overturn the decision to strip it of the franchise in favour of FirstGroup, has stunned local MPs and Peers.
They now want Sir Richard Branson’s company to continue running the key link between Lancashire, London and Scotland until the fiasco is sorted out and any new bidding system is secure.
The politicians also want the government to delay starting a similar process for Northern Rail, including the East Lancashire Line, due to take effect in April 2014, delayed until the Department of Transport review of events is complete. Tory MP Nigel Evans branded the fiasco ‘embarrassing’, Blackburn’s Jack Straw ‘a world record government shambles’ and Pendle Liberal Democrat Peer Tony Greaves ‘an appalling and dreadful shambles’.
New transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin admitted ‘significant technical flaws’ in the process because of mistakes by departmental staff. Three civil servants were suspended as the cost was estimated at £40m.
FirstGroup, which had beaten Virgin Trains to win the 13-year franchise, said it was disappointed.
The route serves 31 million passengers linking at Preston with the line serving Blackburn, Clitheroe, Burnley, Nelson and Colne.
Virgin have said they are willing to keep running the line.
Ribble Valley MP Mr Evans said: “This is extremely embarrassing. I was as shocked as everybody else. We need to ensure Virgin Trains keep running the line while a proper process is sorted out to make sure the new award is secure.”
Labour’s Mr Straw said: “It’s an unbelievable mess We must ensure that Virgin keep running the service while this is sorted out and all franchise processes, including Northern Rail, need to be suspended until we have a proper system.”
Lord Greaves said: “Virgin must keep on running it until we get a new system. They cannot award any more franchises, including Northern Rail, until this is sorted out properly.”