It is becoming increasingly impossible to differentiate between the heroes and villains in the bitter fight for the right to operate the lucrative West Coast Main Line rail franchise.
Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson wants a last-gasp judicial review after losing the contract in a winner-takes-all bidding battle, while new operator FirstGroup is defiantly shooting down claims that it will be unable to live up to impressive promises, which include the restoration of a direct service linking Shropshire with London.
Who is right, and who is wrong? It seems even the Government cannot make its mind up on that one at present, saying it needs a ‘chance to reflect’ on the latest raft of claims, and counter-claims.
These are worrying phrases, suggesting the whole thing will be mired in bureaucratic red tape for some time.
It is all rather baffling, since we have to assume that the Department of Transport had rigorous, detailed checks in place to help select the most appropriate bidder.
Last week’s euphoria, when FirstGroup proudly championed plans to include Telford and Shrewsbury on its London Euston service in four years’ time, suddenly seems a long, long time ago.
Will those four years turn into five or six? Or, if Virgin wins its legal battle, will Shropshire have its hopes dashed altogether once again?
One thing is certain. While the businessmen bicker, and the lawyers lick their lips at the prospect of a costly court battle, this cannot possibly spell good news for Shropshire, where the people who really matter in this mess – the frustrated, powerless commuters – wait anxiously in the sidings.