Virgin Trains backed the decision by the Transport Select Committee to hold a hearing into the West Coast rail franchise competition. The hearing follows widespread concern raised by passengers, MPs and other stakeholders at the decision by the Department for Transport to select FirstGroup as the preferred bidder despite Virgin Trains offering a better deal for passengers and a more secure deal for taxpayers. Virgin’s plans offer a detailed £800m investment programme, delivering new trains, extra routes and even better on-board services.
More than 167,000 people, including thousands of customers who use the West Coast route, have signed an e-petition protesting at the franchise decision. The Department for Transport confirmed yesterday that it had delayed awarding the contract.
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 next week. This follows the Department’s decision to delay the award of the contract. Along with the thousands of customers who signed the e-petition, we hope this will be followed by an independent review of the decision to award the contract to First Group.
“Virgin Trains has submitted a strong and deliverable bid with more commitments on new trains, new routes and new on-board services. We’ll spend £800m - and have given a detailed account of how this would build on the huge improvements we’ve made over the last 15 years. First have made vague promises about spending £350m. Passengers are rightly asking why their voice and priorities appear to have been ignored.”
Virgin Trains today also set out in detail why its bid offers more passenger improvements and a more secure financial deal for the taxpayers, pledging to invest £800m to deliver:
New destinations and improved services
* New services to Telford, Shrewsbury, Blackpool, Bolton, Stirling, Motherwell, Hartford and Liverpool South Parkway.
* Increased services to destinations in North Wales, Nuneaton, Milton Keynes, Rugby, Stafford
* More capacity on the Birmingham-Scotland route.
* Faster journey times between London and Glasgow.
* Greener trains and a better passenger environment with the replacement of all of the Voyager trains with 21 6-car ‘Baby Pendolinos’, meaning no diesel operation over electrified lines.
* An extensive refurbishment of all the current Pendolinos.
New state-of-the-art ticketing
* A revolutionary new centralised booking engine, a first for the UK rail industry, to provide passengers with a one-stop-shop experience.
* Introduction of Smart Ticketing and a new loyalty scheme.
New and enhanced onboard offering
* Complete onboard refresh, with a new state-of-the-art Wi-Fi system capable of growing with passenger needs.
* An enhanced at seat complimentary First Class service and a new at seat Standard Class service.
Improved station facilities
* Installation of ticket gates, a number of station improvement projects including more car parking, ticket machines, CCTV and information points.