SIR Richard Branson today sets out his hopes of running East Coast trains.
The Virgin Money chief is preparing to enter the bidding for the nationalised line despite ongoing controversy at the Government handling of his firm’s West Coast franchise.
Civil servant failures over the West Coast rail contract will cost taxpayers “at least £50m,” MPs have warned.
But speaking to The Journal on a visit to Newcastle, Sir Richard said he had not been deterred from bidding to take on the line from London through Newcastle and Northumberland up to Scotland.
Virgin Trains has already bid for East Coast services, losing out to the likes of GNER, which failed only a year after signing a £1.3bn contract to run the line.
National Express took over in 2007 with a £1.4bn eight-year contract, but less than two years later that proved to be too much and the route was nationalised.
Now, as questions continue over how civil servants mishandled the West Coast contract, Sir Richard has claimed he wants more trains.
He said: “We have effectively ‘won’ East Coast on three different occasions, in that the people who got it over us all went bust and we were just runners-up.
“We would love to get our hands on the East Coast. I think we could transform it. It’s sad that the franchising process has resulted in this languishing. That’s not a reflection on this Government, it was a previous Government who did this.
“We think we can do to the East Coast what we did to the West Coast. If the franchising process is one we think to be fair when it comes back, if it is transparent and open, then I think Virgin will have a pitch at the East Coast.
“I would be very surprised if an awful lot of effort has not gone into making sure the mistakes of the previous time do not happen again if we bid on the East Coast or West Coast lines.”