Transport secretary Justine Greening today confirmed the contract for the West Coast mainline would go to FirstGroup – with a deal expected to be signed tomorrow.
Her decision to ignore calls to put the process on hold came as rival firm Virgin said it would have brought back a direct link between Shropshire and London a year earlier than FirstGroup.
FirstGroup announced plans to introduce a direct rail link between Shropshire and London from 2016.
But officials at Virgin said they would have brought back a single service to the capital by the end of 2014, with three trains running every day from 2016.
More than 150,000 people have signed a petition calling for a U-turn on the decision.
The £5.5 billion deal can be signed after midnight, when a 14-day ‘cooling off’ period expires.
Mrs Greening today insisted the new contract represented ‘a good deal for taxpayers’.
She said: “We do plan to push on with signing the contract with FirstGroup. Although I have a huge amount of respect for Virgin and the work they have done on the line, I suspect that, had they won the bid, they would have been perfectly happy with the process.”
Glynn McDonald, for Virgin Trains, said: “We were going to introduce services between London and Shropshire in two phases. From December 2014, there would have been one service in each direction per day, going to Shrewsbury and calling at Telford.
“Then from 2016, when we had new trains delivered, there would have been another two trains in each direction. You would end up with three services in 2016.”
FirstGroup plan to introduce the service from 2016, running five trains a day.
Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski today blasted Virgin as he defended the decision to award the contract to FirstGroup.
He claimed that Virgin’s problems included overcrowding, lateness, things not working properly, rude staff and ‘expensive tickets’.