Virgin Trains, which operates Macclesfield’s main Manchester to London links, could disappear from UK rail schedules owing to the operator’s bid partner, Stagecoach, being barred from three franchise bids.
The train operator’s bid partner, Stagecoach, has been barred from three franchise bids after the Department for Transport (DfT) said the bids did not meet industry pension rules and Scottish transport group Stagecoach owns 49% of the Virgin trains busines
The two partners, and French rail group SNCF, had submitted a joint bid to renew the West Coast franchise starting next year. Stagecoach had also lodged bids for the East Midlands and South Eastern franchises, which have also been rejected.
It had bid independently for the East Midlands franchise, intended to partner with Alstom for the South Eastern operations, and was jointly bidding for the West Coast Partnership with Virgin and SNCF.
Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson, said he was devastated by the development.
In a blog on Virgin’s corporate website, Sir Richard said Virgin Trains “could be gone from the UK in November”.
The blog continues: “We’re baffled why the DfT did not tell us that we would be disqualified or even discuss the issue – they have known about this qualification in our bid on pensions for months.
“The pensions regulator has warned that more cash will be needed in the future, but no one knows how big that bill might eventually be and no responsible company could take that risk with pensions.”
The blog said: “We can’t accept a risk we can’t manage – this would have been reckless. This is an industry-wide issue and forcing rail companies to take these risks could lead to the failure of more rail franchises.”