THE competition to run trains on the West Coast Main Line has been cancelled following the discovery of significant flaws in the way the franchise process was conducted.
The decision means the Department for Transport (DfT) will no longer be awarding a franchise contract to run the West Coast service when the current deal expires in December.
FirstGroup was due to take over the running of the London to Scotland line after being awarded the contract in August, but Virgin Rail, which currently runs the service, launched a High Court challenge against the decision.
The DfT said it would be no longer contesting the judicial review sought by Sir Richard Branson’s company.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced he has ordered two independent reviews into the competition process.
The flaws uncovered by the DfT relate to the way the procurement was conducted by department officials, it said.
The Government said it was “resolving urgently” the future arrangements for operation of the West Coast service – which was due to be handed over to FirstGroup on December 9.
Mr McLoughlin said: “I have had to cancel the competition for the running of the West Coast franchise because of deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes made by my department in the way it managed the process.”
He added: “West Coast passengers can rest assured that while we seek urgently to resolve the future arrangements the trains that run now will continue to run, with the same drivers, the same staff and timetables as planned.”
FirstGroup said: “We had absolutely no indication there were any issues with the franchise letting process and had received assurances from the DfT that its processes were robust and that it expected to sign the contract with FirstGroup soon.”
Sir Richard welcomed the decision and said: “From the moment we found out FirstGroup had been made the preferred bidder with a completely unrealistic bid, we questioned the way the offers had been assessed, and asked the Government to review and explain how it came to its decision.
“We were convinced the process was flawed but despite our best efforts we were met with silence by the Department for Transport.”