8. What recent progress his Department has made on securing an operator for the west coast main line franchise. (137499)
Since the cancellation of the west coast competition, the Department has negotiated an agreement for Virgin Trains to continue running the service for up to 23 months until November 2014. This will be followed by a long-term contract.
My right hon. Friend will be pleased to hear from a regular west coast main line user that, so far, the interim service seems to be of high reliability and quality. During the original bidding process, both Virgin and First Group promised substantial longer-term improvements to the west coast main line service. Will the Secretary of State encourage future bidders to be similarly ambitious?
I assure my hon. Friend that I am grateful for his update on the service he is receiving and pleased to hear about the satisfaction he and his constituents are getting from it. We are always looking for improvements. I hope that when we come to negotiate the next longer-term contracts, a number of improvements will be included in them, but I also hope to see some improvement on this particular line before 2014.
What lessons will the Secretary of State apply to the west coast franchise from the experience of the not-for-profit east coast main line, not least in respect of the return of a £190 million dividend to taxpayers?
I am always looking to learn lessons from everything that happens on the railways. I believe that the private sector has brought tremendous growth of passenger numbers and improvements in services on the railways. Like the last Government, I am committed to seeing the east coast main line offered to franchise as well.