Virgin Trains promises new rail links for Sunderland

MORE TRAINS: Sunderland is to get greater links to London with the East Coast main line deal. with Grand Central already running between the cities.
MORE TRAINS: Sunderland is to get greater links to London with the East Coast main line deal. with Grand Central already running between the cities.
Have your say

A DEAL to run a rail franchise will see more connections operate between Wearside, London and Scotland.

A consortium involving Sir Richard Branson’s train company Virgin Trains has been chosen to run the East Coast main line franchise from next year.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the consortium involving Virgin and transport company Stagecoach, which already run the West Coast line, will start the East Coast franchise in March.

As part of the agreement, the franchise has plans to run services between the capital and Scotland which will link with Sunderland.

Grand Central already operates trains between Wearside and Kings Cross.

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 and transport unions had fought to keep East Coast in the public sector, pointing to the good returns it has made to the Treasury.

There has been speculation that a consortium of Eurotunnel and French company Keolis which is 70 per cent owned by French state railway SNCF, had been chosen as the new East Coast operator.

But Eurotunnel/Keolis have now missed out, as have the other shortlisted bidder, FirstGroup (correct) which has recently also lost its First Capital Connect and ScotRail franchises.

The new operator of the London to Scotland East Coast route will be called Inter City Railways.

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 Sunderland, as well as Huddersfield, 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 per cent 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 £140million investment package to improve trains and stations.

Over the next eight years Inter City Railways will pay the Government around £3.3billion to operate the franchise.

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 over £38 billion being spent on the network over the next five years.”

Stagecoach group chief executive Martin Griffiths said: “A passion for customers, employees and the community is at the heart of our plans for the franchise.

“We want to build on the quality and pride of the people who will be joining our team.”