The new operator of the East Coast mainline, which has been publicly run for the past five years, has been announced this morning.
A consortium of Stagecoach and Virgin, named Inter City Railways, has won the bidding process to run the route from London to Edinburgh, which includes Alnmouth, Berwick and Morpeth.
This was despite rumours that one of the other bidders – a joint venture between Keolis, a subsidiary of French national railways (SNCF) that has been active in the UK for almost a decade, and Eurostar, which is majority owned by the French state operator – was due to be awarded the franchise.
Over the next eight years, Inter City Railways will pay the Government around £3.3billion to operate the franchise and invest £140million to bring extra benefits for passengers, including a complete refurbishment of the existing train fleet.
The specific benefits cited for Alnmouth are: two additional services per day from London by 2020; upgraded train interiors introduced between 2015 and 2017; a station now served by new high-speed IEP trains from 2020.
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 more than £38billion being spent on the network over the next five years.”
In July 2009, the Labour Government set up Directly Operated Railways to run the East Coast franchise after the previous franchise collapsed. The forthcoming reprivatisation has sparked criticism from some, with the RMT rail union particularly vehement in its opposition to the move.
Earlier this month, would-be Labour MP for Berwick, Scott Dickinson, criticised the incumbent, Sir Alan Beith MP, for not backing a bill which would amend the Railways Act 1993 to permit public-sector railway operators.