Virgin Rail has invested more than £2 billion in improvements like Pendolino tilting trains since it took over the Cross Country and West Coast railway lines in 1997. Now the government has put the first franchise up for tender five years early, but Virgin Rail plans to bid later this year to hold on to the business. Headed by Tony Collins, the Birmingham company is 51% owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and 49% by Stagecoach. The two companies have now formed a separate joint venture to bid for another franchise, the InterCity East Coast line, which has been put up for tender after Sea Containers, parent of the current franchise holder GNER, ran into financial difficulties. Soaring passenger numbers pushed up the sales of Virgin Rail to £717m in 2006.
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