VIRGIN boss Sir Richard Branson has promised to “revolutionise” rail travel between Yorkshire and London next year when a consortium takes over the running of the East Coast main line.
A consortium of Virgin Trains and Stagecoach will run the prestigious London to Scotland line when it is re-privatised in March.
Proposals from 2019 include more trains to London from Bradford, Leeds, York and Harrogate and a £140m investment over eight years to improve trains and stations
Journey times from London to Leeds will be cut in 2019 to two hours and there will be new direct services from Huddersfield, via Dewsbury.
Sir Richard, whose company already runs the West Coast line with Stagecoach, said that partnership had “revolutionised” train travel.
“Our long and fruitful partnership with Stagecoach has revolutionised the West Coast line and train travel in the UK, and we are looking forward to bringing the lessons we have learnt across to the East Coast and building on the success there.
“We are excited to work with East Coast’s great group of talented people, who we know will bring to life that famous and much-loved Virgin spirit under the new franchise.”
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said handing the contract to Stagecoach and Virgin was a “fantastic deal for passengers and staff.”
Rail minister Clare Perry, on a visit to Leeds, said the franchise would see a 10 per cent cut from May in walk-up on-the-day fares.
She said “lessons have been learned” from previous East Coast private sector failures, although there could “no guarantees”.
“I am convinced we have got a very strong deal, with two British companies behind us.”
The award of the new franchise marks a return to the private sector for East Coast which has been run by the DfT since 2009 following the withdrawal of National Express.
Labour had fought to keep it in the public sector, pointing to the good returns to the Treasury.
Michael Dugher, shadow transport secretary and Barnsley East MP, said: “The taxpayer and the travelling public have been sold down the river. This whole franchise process shouldn’t have happened.
“East Coast has...established itself as one of the best train operating companies in the country. Rather than rigging the franchise timetable in order to sell it off before the election, David Cameron’s Government should have been putting the public interest first and working to get a better deal for passengers.”
He added: “It’s absurd that our own public operator is the only rail company in the world that has been barred from challenging to run its own services, on the ideological grounds that it is British and publicly owned.”
Len McCluskey, of Unite, said: “This nakedly political decision to rush through this reprivatisation before the general election is a betrayal of the taxpayers and staff who have made East Coast a success.”
Today’s decision effectively gives Virgin/Stagecoach a monopoly of the two main London to Scotland routes. Sir Richard Branson’s company already operates the West Coast main line from Euston.
Under the terms of the eight-year franchise there will be:
• 23 new services from London to key destinations, with 75 more station calls a day
• Plans for direct links to Huddersfield, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Dewsbury and Thornaby
• Proposals for more trains to London from Bradford, Edinburgh, Harrogate, Leeds, Lincoln, Newcastle, Shipley, Stirling and York
• 3,100 extra seats for the morning peak time by 2020
• Across the entire train fleet there will be 12,200 additional seats - a 50% increase
• 65 state-of-the-art Intercity Express trains brought into passenger service from 2018, totalling 500 new carriages
• Journey times from London to Leeds reduced by 14 minutes, and from London to Edinburgh by 13 minutes
• A £140 million investment package to improve trains and stations
Over the next eight years Inter City Railways will pay the Government around £3.3 billion to operate the franchise.
Virgin Group senior partner Patrick McCall said: “We’re delighted to have been chosen. Our long-term partnership with Stagecoach has seen a revolution in customer service standards, great product innovation, reduced journey times and improved timetables on the West Coast mainline.
“We plan to deliver similar success on the East Coast.”