DfT temporarily hands West Coast Mainline to Richard Branson

The government has asked Richard Branson's Virgin Trains to continue operating the West Coast Mainline service for the next nine to 13 months.

Virgin Trains: holds onto West Coast Mainline franchise for a year
Virgin Trains: holds onto West Coast Mainline franchise for a year

This morning the Department for Transport (DfT) announced to the London Stock Exchange that Virgin Trains will continue in its operations past the initial deadline of 9 December, while the government department runs a competition for an interim franchise agreement.

The DfT cancelled it decision to award the West Coast Mainline operation to First Group on 3 October, due to mistakes made by the department during the bidding process.

Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, said: "The cancellation of the InterCity West Coast franchise is deeply regrettable and I apologise to the bidders involved and the taxpayer who have a right to expect better.

"My priority now is to fix the problem and the first step is to take urgent action to ensure that on the 9 December services continue to run to the same standard and passengers are not affected. I believe Virgin remaining as operator for a short period of time is the best way to do this and my officials and I will be working flat out to make this happen."

Virgin Trains declined to comment on its marketing strategy in light of the announcement, but the company issued the following statement: "Our customers have made clear they want Virgin Trains to continue its excellent service and we now have the chance to deliver that and offer customers some short-term continuity.

"We will now be working hard to make sure we continue to provide the service that has made us successful. Virgin Trains is grateful for the fantastic support from customers and staff over recent months."