FirstGroup to take over from Virgin

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RAIL services running through Wigan are set to change.

Sir Richard Branson has lost the battle to continue running the West Coast Main Line that his Virgin Rail company has been operating since 1997.

The Government today announced that the fight to take over a new 13-year West Coast franchise - which runs through the town - had been won by giant transport company FirstGroup.

FirstGroup, which already has a number of rail franchises including Great Western and ScotRail, will start operating the London to Scotland West Coast line in December.

Announcing the new franchise winner, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers said the new franchise would deliver “big improvements for passengers, with more seats and plans for more services”.

But the RMT transport union warned of “massive cuts to jobs and passenger services and huge increases in fares”.

Virgin has operated the West Coast line for 15 years, introducing tilting high-speed Pendolino trains to the route and increasing passenger levels from around 13 million a year in 1997 to around 31 million a year now.