Railway staff fear for jobs

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Staff at Lancaster railway station could lose their jobs after the government awarded the West Coast Mainline contract to another train operator.

Currently, 21 staff, including ticket and customer service officers and despatchers, are employed by Virgin Trains at Lancaster railway station, however the contract will be transferred to First Group on December 9 until 2026.

Virgin took over the franchise in 1997, but failed to secure a fresh bid for the contract this week with the Department for Transport, who instead awarded it to First Group, which is half owned by bus operator Stagecoach.

In line with TUPE - Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) law, staff in Lancaster could be transferred to First Group, however this has not yet been confirmed by the company.

Unions and rail campaigners have argued jobs will be cut, fares will rise and catering services will be cut back.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, said: “The government decision to award the West Coast Main Line Franchise to FirstGroup is extremely disappointing for Virgin, and for our staff that have worked so hard to transform this railway over the last 15 years.

“We submitted a strong and deliverable bid based on improving customers’ experience, increased investment and sustained innovation.

“To have bid more would have involved dramatic cuts to customer quality and considerable fare rises which we were unwilling to entertain.”

Sir Richard warned that in the past, operators that had won contracts over Virgin had “over promised” in order to win the franchise.

Peter Brown, from Lancaster and Morecambe Rail User Group (LAMRUG), said: “We’ve been to a number of consultations and First Group did say that they weren’t permitted to tell us what they intended to do.

“The impression we got from the meetings was that they were listening to user groups, and we would get a good deal out of them, however all smiles at a presentation does not necessarily mean a better service in the future.”

It is understood that a new timetable for connecting services to Lancaster is due to be brought in by December.

Mr Brown added: “Virgin has operated a pretty good service over the past few years, and it’s difficult to say whether this will be the case with First Group.”