By Marcus Leach

The government has made a u-turn on their decision to award the West Coast Main Line rail franchise to FirstGroup, and has said the bidding process must be rerun.

According to ministers there were "significant technical flaws" in the way the risks for each bid were calculated. They have also ordered two independent reviews into what happened.

Given his huge disappointment in not winning the contract to continue running the West Coast Main Line, Sir Richard Branson said he welcomed the news.

"From the moment we found out that FirstGroup had been made the preferred bidder with a completely unrealistic bid, we questioned the way the offers had been assessed, and asked Government to review and explain how it came to its decision," Branson said on his blog.

"We were convinced the process was flawed but despite our best efforts we were met with silence by the Department for Transport (DfT). We also asked for government to appoint an independent advisor to look at the situation, which was turned down. Reluctantly we were forced to seek a judicial review.

"I am pleased to say that the DfT has looked at all of the facts and found significant flaws in the way it's officials handled the process. They have basically acknowledged that what we had been saying is correct. The same procedures were not followed and "deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes" were made by the Department."

FirstGroup, which beat current operator Virgin Trains to win the 13-year deal, said it had submitted its bid correctly and was "disappointed" at the news.

The West Coast route serves 31 million passengers travelling between London, the West Midlands, the north-west of England, North Wales and the central belt of Scotland.

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