LONDON (Reuters) - The new franchise for the Virgin-run West Coast rail link will be delayed by six months, transport minister Philip Hammond said on Thursday.
The 14-year contract, previously due to start on April 1 2012, will be held back so that ministers can consult on recommendations on the terms of rail franchises made in a government-sponsored review also published on Thursday.
"The new franchise for the InterCity West Coast will now be awarded in August 2012 after a competitive process involving the four shortlisted train operators, and will commence on December 9, 2012," Hammond told parliament.
"The department (of transport) will seek to agree acceptable terms with the existing franchise for a contract extension ... but the government-owned company that runs East Coast will be ready to operate the franchise between April and December 2012 if necessary."
Four companies -- Virgin, Keolis, FirstGroup and Abellio -- have been shortlisted for the new franchise, which links London to cities in northern England and Scotland such as Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh.
The franchise is currently run by a joint venture between Virgin Group and transport group Stagecoach.
Reporting by Matt Falloon