Ministers are under pressure to delay plans to strip Virgin Trains of its franchise to run services on the West Coast Main Line as the row over the controversial decision continues.
The Commons Transport Committee, which oversees the work of the Department for Transport, has written to Ministers demanding they delay signing the final contract papers which will hand the franchise to transport giant FirstGroup.
MPs said no final decision should be made until they have had a chance to quiz Transport Secretary Justine Greening about the decision to bring in a new operator to run West Coast Main Line services between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland.
It follows a warning from the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, that they too plan to hold an inquiry into the decision.
And last night a public petition demanding a rethink reached 100,000 signatures, potentially prompting a Commons debate on the issue.
The “epetition”, on the official government petition website, states: “The West Coast Mainline’s current value is thanks to millions of pounds of investment and commitment from Virgin Trains – they’re not perfect, none are – but they have delivered a reliable service for 15 years and turned the line around.”
But despite the controversy, the Department for Transport appeared determined to press ahead with the contract signing.
A spokesman said: “Once a decision has been made it is in the public interest and the commercial interests of bidders for the identity of the winning bidder to be made known promptly.”
FirstGroup offered a bid worth around £10 billion for the right to operate the line – more than Virgin’s bid of around £8.6 billion.
Unions and Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson claim that FirstGroup will find it impossible to pay that much and still provide a good service to passengers, but the claims have been firmly denied by FirstGroup.