FirstGroup expected to pip Branson to West Coast

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Rail union RMT is gearing up to challenge West Coast favourites FirstGroup over fears that jobs could be lost if the company is awarded the franchise later this week.

The UK’s biggest operator is expected to cross the finishing line ahead of Virgin after submitting a bid thought to be around £1 billion more than its nearest rival for the 14-year franchise.

RMT is now planning a large-scale public campaign to protect jobs after being advised by fleet maintenance company Alstom that the winning bid is likely to put 800 jobs at risk with the removal of shops and catering to add extra seating capacity.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Whoever wins the West Coast route this week, and all the signs point to First Group, they should be left in no doubt that RMT will mount a massive industrial, political and public campaign to stop any attacks on our members jobs and the services that they provide to the travelling public.”

Branson has described First’s rumored bid of £7 billion as ‘unrealistic’, warning that the quality of service would have to be cut drastically to meet the £500m a year payment to the taxpayer.

Sources at the Department for Transport (DfT) have said this would roughly equate to the operator paying them £16 per passenger journey, before any money is used to fund operating costs.

Whoever wins the West Coast route this week they should be left in no doubt that RMT will mount a massive industrial, political and public campaign to stop any attacks on our members jobs and the services that they provide to the travelling public.

Crow added: “From the leaked figures it is clear that this franchise in being let on pure McNulty terms with a gold-plated, 12-year contract linked to massive cuts to jobs and passenger services and huge increases in fares as the winning bidder battles to extract every penny that they can in profit.

“The new West Coast deal in an exercise in casino franchising that lays bare the whole sordid enterprise which is rail privatisation. Companies promise the earth, jack up fares and slash jobs and services in a drive for profits and if the numbers don’t stack up they throw back the keys and expect the public sector to pick up the pieces.”

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