Sir Richard Branson urges David Cameron to intervene in West Coast rail deal

The Virgin boss accused the Transport Department of trying to “rush the signing through,” and renewed his offer to run the West Coast Mainline free of charge until a review of the bidding process could be conducted, reports The Telegraph.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “We want a brief stay so that the debate can take place and the facts can be examined.”

“The Department for Transport has no excuse to delay the signing, and I think the person who can really intervene to try to get some sense into the Department for Transport is the prime minister […] we would like things delayed by a month or so, and if as a result of that the handover is delayed, we’re very happy to run it on a not-for-profit basis.”

Sir Richard Branson called for bid to be examined by the Transport Committee or or independent body. “We’re not saying we should necessarily have it, or they should necessarily have it, we’re just saying we just want an independent body to examine it,” he said.

A petition urging the government to reconsider changing the operator of the West Coast Mainline has attracted more than 135,000 signatures, well over the 100,000 needed to trigger a debate in Parliament.

“We’ve decided to fight it as hard as we can […] No questions that have been asked of the DfT have been given, and they’re just trying to push this process through quickly so that it will go away before MPs return to the House of Commons,” he said.

Mr Branson’s remarks came as Labour also urged the Government to delay signing off the contentious contract for the West Coast rail line until MPs have debated the deal.

Maria Eagle, shadow Transport Secretary, said many MPs with constituencies along the route had not been given the chance to voice their concerns about the deal with FirstGroup.
She joined Sir Richard Branson, whose Virgin Train business lost out in the bidding for the 13 year contract, in calling for a halt to the planned contract signing on Tuesday. Louise Ellman wants the Transport Select Committee she chairs to hold its own investigation.