Virgin and three rivals have been shortlisted by the Department of Transport for the West Coast Intercity rail franchise for 2012 to 2026.
Shortlisted to run the train service between London Euston and Scotland via the North West are:
- FirstGroup, which runs the ScotRail and TransPennine franchises
- Abellio controlled by the Dutch operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen
- French groups Keolis and SNCF in a combined bid
- Virgin Rail, which has run the franchise for the past 14 years
Virgin Rail, 49% owned by Stagecoach and 51% by Virgin Group, said in a statement: "Virgin has a proven track record over the last 14 years of providing better rail services for customers, including the renewal of the entire train fleet and the introduction of a high-frequency timetable. In the last six years alone, annual passenger numbers have doubled from 14 million to over 28 million and Virgin is now delivering industry-leading levels of customer satisfaction."
Tony Collins, Virgin Rail's chief executive, said: "We now look forward to seeing what the government includes in the tender for the franchise. We intend to submit a very strong bid to retain the West Coast franchise, building on the investment and customer improvements we have made. We have plenty of innovative ideas and look forward to working with local communities along the route, as well as other stakeholders, to develop these plans."
The Invitation to Tender is expected to be published by the Department for Transport in May, with bids due to be submitted in August and a decision on the new franchisee announced in December. The new franchise begins in April 2012.