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Virgin Trains to run West Coast Mainline for extra 23 months
The government has announced Virgin Trains will run the West Coast Mainline for a further 23 months - hours before a report into the collapse of the line's franchise deal is published.

An inquiry has examined why the £5bn deal collapsed in October.

First Group was initially told it had won, but the tendering process was halted because the Department for Transport made numerical mistakes.

Monday's temporary deal means Virgin will run trains until 9 November 2014.

The government said the Department for Transport would be able to shorten the 23-month period "by up to six months if a subsequent franchise can be let on a shorter timescale".

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin also announced a new hourly service between Glasgow and London, adding: "We are determined to ensure not only that passengers continue to experience the same levels of service they have in the past, but that services improve."

The BBC understands Mr McLoughlin is expected to make a statement to the Commons on the West Coast franchise at 11:30 GMT.

'Shocking ineptitude'

The Department for Transport was forced to scrap the original bid to run trains between London, Manchester and Glasgow because of the miscalculations. Three officials are still suspended.

The inquiry into the collapsed tendering process was led by Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw.

The first report from Sam Laidlaw, last October, talked of officials not following their own guidelines, not treating the bidders equally, failing to include inflation in their figures and ignoring warnings of possible problems months before the deal capsized.

According to BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott, this latest, and final report by Mr Laidlaw will cast more light on why it all went wrong, but is unlikely to name names.

That has been left to another inquiry, which has been completed, but will not be made public.

Mr Laidlaw had been due to appear before the House of Commons Transport Select Committee this week, but he will now give his evidence on 18 December.

The chief executive of Virgin Rail Group, Tony Collins, commenting on the extension of the company's agreement, promised "even better service".

He said: "We are proud of what we have achieved since 1997, but there is undoubtedly more to come and we will work closely with the DfT to bring even better services in future."

The general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union, Bob Crow, said there had been a "reckless high-wire act that has taken the negotiations between Virgin and the DfT right to the very brink".

"Because of the shocking ineptitude right at the top of this rotten government, Sir Richard Branson has muscled his way into a monopoly provider position and him and his Virgin Trains shareholders will be laughing all the way to the bank.

"The case for renationalisation of Britain's railways is now overwhelming."

West Coast Mainline map
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