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West Coast: Toy Train Firm Bids For Franchise

(c) Sky News 2013

A toy firm that bid for the West Coast Main Line franchise after it was bungled by Government officials has spoken of its surprise at receiving a response.

Bigjigs, which makes children's wooden trains, wrote to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin after the bidding process ended in chaos.

FirstGroup (LSE: FGP.L - news) were awarded the franchise but it later emerged officials had messed up their sums and the deal was axed, costing the taxpayer millions.

Bigjigs decided to proffer their services as a joke and in a letter to Mr McLoughlin declared that it should be a "serious candidate" for the role.

"This company has been delivering exceptional service on time and to low cost for its customers for years," the letter said.

It explained that it could offer customers an efficient service on various train models, including the Bullet, Princess and Heritage.

Its trains also had the added bonus of no delays - "our track is not affected by sun, rain, snow, wind or leaves", the missive pointed out.

Every commuter was promised a seat and ministers were reminded that the company "had never, nor never will, have an accident".

Best of all for would-be passengers hit days ago by more fare hikes, the Bigjigs train service is totally free.

"We are confident we will 100% deliver to the 31 million people who travel on the West Coast Main Line every year," communications chief George Poole wrote.

The letter was sent in October just as the rail fiasco erupted and it took almost three months for the Government to respond.

But instead of just firing back an acknowledgement, aides took time to respond to the offer in jest - with clear recommendations for improving the bid.

Mark Reach, private secretary to Mr McLoughlin, welcomed the "helpful proposals" about the train route and says he took a "keen interest" in them.

Continuing the light-hearted theme, he wrote: "I am afraid there are some necessary bureaucratic hurdles you will need to overcome before you are able to run passenger services."

He hailed the "expert craftsmanship and high build quality" of the company's rolling stock but pointed out that wooden carriages might not meet the necessary standards.

"Aluminium might be a better bet," he advised.

His other recommendations showed impressive technical detail, pointing out how the trains could maximise space and increase their suitability for high speeds.

It concludes: "Notwithstanding the above, your vibrant livery would certainly brighten up the railway. Good luck in refining your proposal."

Mr Poole told Sky News that he was surprised by the reply but "pleased they took the letter in jest".

"Their response was quite comical but serious at the same time. It was surprisingly detailed. It is disappointing it was not from Patrick McLoughlin himself but he is probably a busy man," he said.

"It [the bid process] was pretty chaotic from the Government and we wanted to do something that was light-hearted. BigJigs rail is one of our biggest ranges and we just wanted to poke some fun at it."

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