Government takes bids for East Coast franchise

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin today unveiled the start of competition for the East Coast franchise. The new franchisee is expected to carry its first passengers by February 2015 (release). He said:

This programme is a major step in delivering tangible improvements to services, providing long-term certainty to the market and supporting our huge programme of rail investment. Above all, in future franchise competitions we are placing passengers in the driving seat by ensuring that their views and satisfaction levels are taken into account when deciding which companies run our railway services.

Our reporter Marion Dakers:

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.

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The Centre for Policy Studies has found in their report Rail's Second Chance that competition on the East Coast Main Line has led to more journeys, higher revenues for the train companies, lower fares, more and happier passengers.