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Virgin Trains has said it has started court proceedings over the government's decision to award a new franchise to transport company FirstGroup. Virgin had run the franchise since 1997, but lost to FirstGroup, prompting it to demand a review of the process.
Labour had also urged the government to delay the signing of the contract so that MPs could examine it.
But earlier Transport Secretary Justine Greening said there would be no delay in signing the FirstGroup deal.
Meanwhile Sir Richard Branson has offered to run the West Coast Mainline for free f it helps his company secure the contract. A petition calling on the Government to allow Virgin trains to retain the franchise for the rail line has received more than 125,000 signatures since it was launched earlier this week.
The new contract, which will see FirstGroup take over the franchise, is due to be signed tomorrow, and Mr Branson is calling on the process to be delayed to allow a proper debate.
He said: “It is far better for MPs to have the chance to debate the issues, and question ministers on the detail before the decision is finalised.
“To assist in this process, there should be an independent audit of the Department for Transport decision to ensure it has been based on correct criteria and reliable forecasting of customer numbers, revenue and payments to Government.”
The call for the decision to be debated echoes an appeal by MP Tim Farron.
He said: “I think we must listen to the public and debate this issue in Parliament. On my annual surgery summer tour it has been the top concern my constituents have wanted to talk about.”
Mr Branson added: “If this process means extending the current franchise beyond December for a few months, I and my partners at Stagecoach would happily run the extended franchise on a not-for-profit basis, or donate profits to charity.High profile celebrities have given their backing to the independently-set up Government-run e-petition to force a debate in Parliament on the decision to strip Virgin Trains of the prestigious West Coast rail franchise.
Backing the campaign to get people to sign the e-petition are:
@Gary_Lucy: Guys and gals please sign this to support virgin trains they got me to and from Holyoaks for three years
E-petition has just hit 26k in 3 working days & is biggest survey on DFT section! You guys are amazing! Retweeted by dick and dom
@eddieissard: I’m signing this e-petition. Government should reconsider. I think we should support it.
The e-petition can be accessed at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/37180
Cumbrian MP and President of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron has today called for Virgin Trains loss of the West Coast Main Line to be debated in Parliament, after a petition urging the Government reconsider the decision gained over 100,000 signatures.
Virgin Trains was stripped of the contract to run trains between London and Glasgow, which it has operated since 1997, last week when the Government awarded the franchise to FirstGroup.
A customer of Virgin Trains set up the petition which now has over 100,000 signatures on it. This could potentially trigger a debate on the issue in the House of Commons if the petition gains support from MPs and is picked by the Backbench Business Committee.
The MP said: “I think we must listen to the public and debate this issue in Parliament. Over 100,000 people have signed the petition – we must allow the case to be put and hear the Government's reply. On my annual surgery summer tour it has been the top concern my constituents have wanted to talk about. If we don’t discuss this it will just make people even more cynical about Westminster politics.”