Stagecoach & Virgin win East Coast franchise

After much false media speculation, the new East Coast rail franchise has finally gone to the Stagecoach-Virgin joint venture company ICR (Inter City Railways).  Keolis/ Eurostar, the favourite bidder tipped to win, was unsuccessful; while the other bidder, FirstGroup, has lost out yet again.

Stagecoach is the dominant partner in the joint venture and holds 90% of the share capital.

The new franchise runs from 1 March 2015 to 31 March 2023, and comes with a one year optional extension at the DfT’s discretion. ICR is committed to increase the premium payable to the government – on this already profitable route – to around £2.3bn (at 2014/15 prices and discounted at an annual 3.5% rate).

£140m is to be invested in upgrading services, and £25m will be spent on station improvements and car parks. Seating capacity on trains will be increased by 50% to provide 12,200 additional seats by 2020. 23 new destinations will get direct rail services from London, including Huddersfield and Middlesbrough (for the first time in many years), and frequencies will be enhanced on some existing poorly-served routes (eg to Bradford, Harrogate, Lincoln and Sunderland).

Many services will be accelerated: regular Edinburgh to Kings Cross journey times  are to be clipped by 20 minutes to four hours, and services to Leeds will come down to around two hours.

The new franchise will benefit from the introduction of 65 new IEP trains, which are to be introduced from 2018 onwards.

661/ Nov 14

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