MPs push for answers over West Coast rail

Marion Dakers
POLITICIANS are pushing to meet with rail operator FirstGroup to discuss concerns about the expected handover of the West Coast Main Line.

As the Department for Transport’s (DfT) lawyers pore over the court proceedings filed this week by losing bidder Virgin, MPs based near the West Coast route have been inundated by questions from constituents, which they now hope to put to First’s management.

David Morris, the Conservative MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, and Tim Farron, the Lib Dem MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, are among those worried about the handover.

A growing number of MPs have also told City A.M. they want to see a fresh debate on the rail franchise.

The Labour Party has already called on the transport secretary Justine Greening to allow a parliamentary debate on the matter, though the DfT reiterated its hope yesterday that the contract awarding the 13-year franchise to First will be signed “soon”.

A public e-petition calling for a rethink has now reached 163,000 signatures, and an MP must now formally table it to the backbench business committee before they can consider it for time in the Commons or in a Westminster Hall debate.

Despite a standstill at the DfT, several backbenchers have said they would come forward to support the debate if the ongoing judicial review process allows. The next meeting of the committee is scheduled for Tuesday.

But not everyone is concerned about First’s victory – Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski said in an open letter to Sir Richard Branson yesterday that his ongoing fight over the route “smacks of sour grapes”.