Shropshire's long-awaited direct rail link to London was thrown into fresh confusion today after MPs demanded the Government delay signing a new deal.
Rail operator FirstGroup won the contract to operate the busy mixed-traffic West Coast Main Line from London to Scotland last week and immediately pledged to reinstate a direct link from Shrewsbury and Telford to the capital.
It says trains will run from the county to Euston from 2016 – the first time Shropshire has had a direct route since the axing of the Shropshire and Wrexham service to Marylebone in January 2011.
But Labour MPs today demanded the Government holds off signing the deal amid fears FirstGroup’s £5.5bn bid is unrealistic.
The party says MPs must have the chance to consider the decision to take the franchise from current operator Virgin Trains and give it to FirstGroup for the next 14 years.
Maria Eagle, shadow transport secretary, said there were concerns over how the move would affect fares and levels of service.
FirstGroup says it will bring in key improvements for passengers as well as opening up direct routes to Shropshire and improving value-for-money for passengers and taxpayers.
The Department for Transport said it had ‘no reason’ to delay the signing until after Parliament returns next week.
Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson offered to run the line for free to allow more time to debate the issue.
Sir Richard today said he believed FirstGroup would not have enough money to run the line.
He said: “We just want the facts examined. We believe the facts will prove us to be right and we believe that Virgin will end up continuing to run the line.
“We have sent the Department for Transport a list of 30 questions and this is meant to be an open society and we haven’t had one of those questions answered.” More than 134,000 members of the public have signed an online petition against the FirstGroup decision.