Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin will announce the government’s short-term plans for the running of the West Coast mainline rail service on Monday.
McLoughlin last week scrapped the original competition for the rail franchise (see online news October 3), which awarded the service to First Group instead of current operator Virgin Trains, due to “significant flaws” in the process which has seen the suspension of three civil servants at the DfT.
The franchise operates trains from Euston in London to the Midlands, north-west and then on to Scotland.
McLoughlin will make an announcement in the House of Commons on Monday about what to do with the franchise from December 9 when Virgin’s current franchise expires. McLoughlin has said that rerunning the bidding process will take from 12 to 18 months.
The transport secretary has two interim options: allowing Virgin to continue operating the franchise until the new bidding process is completed, or taking control of the line through the government-owned Directly Operated Railways, which already runs the East Coast mainline franchise after previous operator National Express withdrew from running the service at the end of 2009.
McLoughlin is also due to appear before the House of Commons’ transport committee on October 31 to explain what went wrong with the original bidding process.
Committee chairman Louise Ellman said: “The Department for Transport has many serious questions to answer about what went wrong with the West Coast mainline franchise competition and the wider ramifications for the other complex contractual negotiations it is involved in such as the Thameslink rolling stock procurement.
“I have written to the secretary of state to find out more about the reviews he has ordered, the staff who have been suspended and the reporting lines to ministers ahead of the hearing we will hold on October 31.”
McLoughlin ordered two independent reviews following the scrapping of the West Coast bid. The first is looking at what went wrong with this specific process and the second examines the wider rail franchise programme.
Report by Rob Gill