VIRGIN trains will continue to operate through Crewe for a further 23 months, it has been announced.

Sir Richard Branson’s company, Virgin Rail Group (VRG), was today given a contract extension to operate the InterCity West Coast franchise until November 8, 2014.

Virgin had been set to lose their operations on the West Coast Mainline when Government favoured a rival franchise bid from FirstGroup.

An online petition set up in support of Virgin Rail’s bid received over 100,000 signatures.

An enquiry into the collapse of the FirstGroup deal – worth around £5 billion – has criticised the way bidding was handled.

The Laidlaw Report has pointed to failures at the Department for Transport (DfT).

MP Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport, said the report made ‘extremely uncomfortable reading for the department.’

The report states that the DfT wrongly calculated the amount of risk capital bidders would have to offer to guarantee their franchise proposals against default.

Virgin plan to add 106 new carriages to their services to meet demand that has seen customer numbers double to 31 million in six years.

Tony Collins, CEO of VRG, said: “I’m delighted that we have an agreement with the Department for Transport that gives us the chance to continue providing high quality services to our customers.

“We have had great support from staff and customers in recent months and we will repay that loyalty with even better service.”

“We will not be sitting back in the coming months, but are keen to introduce more improvements to the service, which is already the most popular long-distance service in the country.

“We are proud of what we have achieved since 1997, but there is undoubtedly more to come and we will work closely with the Department for Transport to bring even better services in future.”