Billionaire Sir Richard Branson has confirmed that he will be looking closely at a scheme to open branches of Virgin Money at railway stations between London and Scotland. The entrepreneur is currently attempting to retain the franchise for Virgin Trains on the route up the west coast. Other firms also keen to win the contract include NV Nederlandse Spoorwgan, the Ditch operator, and SNCF of France.
FirstGroup Plc has also said it intends to bid for the franchise. Sir Richard has said that the government contract should not automatically go to the highest bidder. In 2007, Virgin Trains lost out to a higher bid made by National Express on the east coast. However, not two years later the company was forced to give up the lease because it was unable to fulfil financial agreements laid out in the contract.
Sir Richard said that national companies rarely delivered the best customer service, in his opinion. He added that if Virgin is allowed to continue on the west coast, passengers can expect to see some radical changes.
If the contract is not renewed, then Sir Richard has hinted that Virgin could walk away from the railway business in the UK altogether. Although he did not expand on his comment, he said that Virgin had already been approached about developing networks in the US and in Australia.
Virgin has just agreed to buy Northern Rock for £747 million. It is estimated that the deal will expand Virgin Money’s customer base by around one million people.