Well, haven’t the UK Government just gone and done it again. With the announcement that Virgin Trains, possibly the best UK train company, has lost the West Coast Rail franchise, they’ve only gone and landed themselves in a massive hole.
Read up here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19264614
Not only are they removing one of the best companies, but they are replacing them with one of the worst! Yes, that’s right, dear old First Group has been awarded the (extended) franchise, so for the next 14 years, it’s more than likely that all the good work put in by Virgin will be ruined, jobs lost and customer satisfaction slashed.
Whilst I’m told that First can do a good job sometimes (and I’ll agree that any experience on the Transpennine Express routes from Edinburgh have been pretty decent) I know that First fail elsewhere – not just at trains. First Group’s bus operations are collapsing around them, and they’ve recently “given up” on the Great Western franchise. Mind you, in saying that I’m not too familiar with the details.
So why didn’t Virgin get it, if they are meant to be so good? Simple. The government got greedy.
First Group are paying way over the odds for this franchise, in the same way that GNER and National Express did with the East Coast line. That led to the government having to take over the line when National Express handed it back! Do they want that to happen again? I’d think not! But they do want the money, and to get it they are prepared to ignore the facts, the people and the current good results Virgin get as it is. They are quite happy to hid behind the promises that First Group are making (whilst everyone knows they are promising too much).
As it happens, I started writing this post at the beginning of this whole saga, and in the weeks since, a petition was set up on the Government’s E-Petitions site (view it here). That petition very quickly reached the threshold of 100,000 and it now sits above a cosy 170,000 signatures. You’d have thought that having this petition would have made MPs realise that the people they represent were telling them that what they wanted was different from the government. Apparently not. The then transport secretary Justine Greening (I have got the right one?) was all set to power on with signing a contract with First Group.
Then Virgin threw a spanner in her plans by launching legal action. So, as of today, all I know is that the signing has been delayed, but the plan is to go ahead with the changeover in December.
Fingers crossed that gets delayed too.