More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for a Government U-turn on the decision to award the West Coast Main Line rail contract to FirstGroup.
A House of Commons debate is now set to take place after an online petition received huge public support – including from celebrities such as X Factor presenter Dermot O’Leary, comedian Eddie Izzard and footballer Rio Ferdinand.
Mounting public concern has led to MP Louise Ellman, chair of the House of Commons Transport Committee, to ask for the signing of the contract to be delayed.
The issue could have implications for Shropshire after FirstGroup pledged to introduce a direct rail link between the county and London by 2016.
Virgin representatives have said they were also planning to bring back the link and were aiming to introduce the service by the end of 2015.
Sir Richard Branson, head of Virgin Trains, said he was delighted at the public support for the petition, which was set up less than a week ago.
He said staff were ‘overwhelmed’ by the response and called for the Government to heed the demands for a delay in the signing of the contract.
“The Transport Committee is absolutely right to ask for a delay.
“The growing public concern about the franchise, and lack of answers from the Department for Transport, means that a pause for reconsideration is essential to let Parliament examine this very important issue,” he said.
Last week, Richard Parry, who is lined up to be managing director of the new FirstGroup franchise when it starts operating in December, said the company hoped to be able to run trains from Shrewsbury and Telford to London with journey times shorter than two-and-a-half hours.
He added that the group hoped to run about five trains a day on the capital service, but admitted that it was ‘frustrating’ for passengers the link would not come into being for another four years.
Concerns have been raised about FirstGroup’s ability to deliver services across the West Coast franchise after it outbid Virgin for the route by about £700 million.
By Chris Burn