Transport minister set to unveil new timetable for rail contests

Marion Dakers
TRANSPORT minister Patrick McLoughlin is this week expected to announce an updated timetable for the troubled rail franchise programme, including plans to put the East Coast main line back into the private sector.

The East Coast line has been run by Directly Operated Railways, which was set up by the Department for Transport, since National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Both Virgin and FirstGroup are expected to place bids for the route when the tender process begins.

McLoughlin could also give Virgin Rail a further extension on its West Coast main line contract, taking it beyond the 2015 general election, as part of his announcement to parliament.

Virgin has a contract to run the route between London and Glasgow until November 2014, following McLoughlin’s decision to freeze all franchise contests last October.

FirstGroup last year won rights to the route from November 2012, but Virgin is operating the franchise on short-term contracts while the contest is run again.

“The government expects to set out its plans for future rail franchises in the spring, in line with the recommendations from an independent review by leading industry expert Richard Brown, which endorsed the government’s approach to providing train services that benefit tax payers and fare payers,” said a spokesperson for the DfT yesterday.