Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Stagecoach and Virgin awarded West Coast extension despite East Coast failure

An East Coast mainline train Stagecoach's boss has criticised misinformation surrounding its handling of the East Coast franchise which looks likely to end just three years
Troy Mann | 07 February, 2018, 03:06

Stagecoach Group PLC said Monday its Virgin Rail Group joint venture has been awarded a new West Coast rail franchise, while the company is also to bid for the new East Midlands franchise.

Stagecoach and Virgin signed a contract to run the service from 2015 to 2023 and pay the United Kingdom government £3.3 billion to do so. So, too, did the Department for Transport while passengers put up with higher fares.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is under pressure after announcing the Stagecoach-Virgin operated line was in "urgent" need of intervention.

The government is now considering a number of options for the franchise until a new contract can be agreed.

The Government is considering directly operating the East Coast Mainline after the Transport Secretary announced the existing operator is due to "run out of money".

"Handing a cheque worth hundreds of millions of pounds to Richard Branson and (Stagecoach chairman) Brian Souter would be indefensible at the best of times, but we are now at the worst of times with a Brexit squeeze on the public finances and with rail fares going through the roof", he said at the time.

The government had previously allowed Stagecoach and Virgin, who were supposed to run services on the line until 2023, to walk away from an agreement three years early.

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"We're sorry for the impact this has had on our investors, who've received no dividends from Virgin Trains East Coast and have seen a significant fall in the value of their investment".

"This government will undertake a transparent appraisal of the options available to ensure passengers and taxpayers are protected". "At all times, we have acted with professionalism and integrity by fulfilling Stagecoach's obligations to fund the franchise, even in challenging times and with changed circumstances".

"Our proposal for a collaboration with Alstom to bid for the South Eastern rail franchise aims to combine Alstom's knowledge of infrastructure and rolling stock, with our operational expertise and customer service focus". However, amid the broader crisis facing major projects in Network Rail, much of the work required to facilitate the new VTEC timetable has been delayed.

Mick Whelan, from the train drivers' union Aslef, said: "It is outrageous that Virgin Trains has been handed a lucrative new contract to run services on the West Coast Mainline despite serious criticism of its owners' handling of the East Coast franchise".

Labour peer and former Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis stormed: "On the same day that Virgin and Stagecoach have failed on the East Coast mainline, Grayling has given Virgin a sweetheart deal on the West Coast".

Shares in Stagecoach were down 1.6% at the close on Monday at 145.30 pence each.

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