Stagecoach Virgin consortium to run East Coast

The line has been in public hands since 2009.
The line has been in public hands since 2009.
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A consortium made up of Stagecoach and Virgin today won the franchise to run the East Coast mainline rail route.

There were fears earlier in the week that control of the Edinburgh to London route would be handed to a consortium in which the French government was the main partner, allowing UK rail fares to subsidise French railway improvements.

The new partnership, which will operate as Inter City Railways from March 2015, has promised to invest £140 million in the route over eight years, and will pay the government £3.3 billion for the contract while gaining a profit in the region of three per cent.

The companies say they plan to double the number of seats, the frequency of services and cut journey times, shaving 13 minutes off trips between Edinburgh to London.

Announcing the deal today, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “This is a fantastic deal for passengers and for staff on this vital route. It gives passengers more seats, more services and new trains.

“We are putting passengers at the heart of the service. I believe Stagecoach and Virgin will not only deliver for customers, but also for the British taxpayer.”

“This Government knows the importance of our railways. That is why they are a vital part of our long-term economic plan, with over £38 billion being spent on the network over the next five years.”

Stagecoach group chief executive Martin Griffiths said: “A passion for customers, employees and the community is at the heart of our plans for the franchise. We want to build on the quality and pride of the people who will be joining our team.”

The RMT union called the return of the franchise, after five years in the public sector to the private sector “a national disgrace”.

Other companies bidding to win the franchise included FirstGroup and a joint venture between Eurostar and French firm Keolis.

However, Mick Cash, RMT general secretary said the contract was “an act of utter betrayal”. “The government has confirmed that it is bulldozing ahead with the re-privatisation of the East Coast Main Line despite all the figures showing that the current public sector operator is handing over a billion pounds back to the British people while delivering huge improvements in service and customer satisfaction.”

Speaking at Waverley Station this morning, UK rail minister Claire Perry said publicly-run East Coast had been a “keep the lights on” service. She said: “It was never a long-term solution. It hasn’t been making the sort of investments that these two companies will do, and from a punctuality point of view, it has not done brilliantly. Stagecoach, which operates East Midlands trains, has one of the best punctuality records in the UK.”

The previous operator of the rail line, National Express, ran into financial difficulties, forcing the Government to take control of the franchise.