The farcical handling of the West Coast franchise leaves us all counting the cost
The Department for Transport’s decision to award FirstGroup the franchise to operate the West Coast Main Line was always controversial.
Yesterday, the department announced a reversal: the deal with FirstGroup was off, the franchise competition was cancelled, and all the bidders would have their costs refunded by the taxpayer. Originally, the newspapers put the costs of compensation at £40 million. This morning The Times believed the total costs of cleaning up the West Coast “fiasco” (Ed Milliband) would be closer to £300 million.
Scandalous. But the franchise fiasco also comes at some personal cost to me. In August – believing that Virgin Trains would soon cease operations on the West Coast route – I rushed to a toy shop and bought a Hornby model version of a Virgin Trains Pendolino. (I was so anxious to get my hands on the train that I phoned in advance, begging the shop assistant to set it aside for me)
I believed my mint condition Hornby Pendolino would soon become a sought-after collectable. I imagined frenzied railway fans, sometime in the future, scrambling to outbid each other to own this little piece of history. I felt tremendously pleased at my own cleverness.
Today, those dreams have turned to dust. Virgin Trains is back in the running for the West Coast franchise. If I am to spend my twilight years cruising the oceans and being pampered by gifted Swiss clinicians I better find another nest egg.