Virgin Rail will continue to run the West Coast Main Line through Lancashire while its future is thrashed out, it has been confirmed.
The Department for Transport announced on Monday it is in talks for Sir Richard Branson’s group to remain as operator of the London to Scotland service for “between nine and 13 months.”
It said this will allow it time to run a competition for an “interim franchise agreement” is run to the service while it then run a long-term franchise competition, both will be open to any bidders.
The move follows last month’s collapse of FirstGroup’s bid to run the service after the Government spotted “significant technical flaws” in its own process to award the contract.
That should have seen a First take over running the line from Virgin on December 9.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “The cancellation of the InterCity West Coast franchise is deeply regrettable and I apologise to the bidders involved and the taxpayer who have a right to expect better.
“My priority now is to fix the problem and the first step is to take urgent action to ensure that on the 9 December services continue to run to the same standard and passengers are not affected.
“I believe Virgin remaining as operator for a short period of time is the best way to do this and my officials and I will be working flat out to make this happen.”
The deal will see more than 400 workers at Preston station, presently employed by Virgin, remain with the company for the duration initial control period, at least.
The route also runs services through Lancaster station.
It is understood the Government has decided it could not set up operations for the state-owned Direct Railways Operator (DOR), which runs trains on the east coast, to run the West Coast service by the December 9 deadline.