The train route was meant to come under First’s control in early December after it won the bid to operate the London-to-Glasgow line last month, but the threat from Virgin – which has run the service since 1997 – has put the move on hold. The government is now putting together plans step in and run the service via Directly Operated Railways (DOR) until the dispute is resolved. DOR, the state-owned holding company that was set up to run the East Coast line after National Express’s contract to operate it was terminated in 2009.
The Department for Transport said: “In view of the legal challenge from Virgin Trains, we are looking at our responsibilities under section 30 of the Railways Act and it is only prudent to increase our focus on contingency planning.”
Branson and First Group chief executive Tim O’Toole are set to appear in front of MPs today to be questioned over the dispute. Branson says the finances of FirstGroup’s bid are not feasible.