Inquiry launched into East Coast rail franchise

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The decision to end the East Coast mainline rail franchise early is to be investigated by MPs.

Virgin Trains East Coast, made up of Stagecoach and Virgin, will withdraw from running the service, which connects the North East to London, Scotland and other mainline destinations, withing months after running into difficulties.

Now the House of Commons Transport Committee has announced it is launching an inquiry into the situation.

The committee said there are "serious questions" to be asked, adding that they will look at the best way forward, and the wider implications for the rail franchising system.

Earlier this month, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced that the Stagecoach-led franchise would only be able to continue in its current form for a "very small number of months".

Lilian Greenwood, chair of the committee, said: "This failure - not once, but three times - has drawn criticism from all corners.

"There are serious questions to be asked of the train operator, Network Rail and ministers, and the Transport Committee intends to ask them.

"The failure of the East Coast franchise has wider implications for rail franchising and the competitiveness of the current system.

"Lessons need to be learned by all concerned. In the meantime, the Department for Transport must take the right steps to protect passengers and taxpayers.

"Safeguards must be put in place to restore public confidence in the sustainability of our railways."

A Stagecoach Group spokesman said: "Virgin Trains East Coast is a well-run, profitable railway and we are continuing to meet our contractual commitments, as we have done throughout the past 21 years in operating train services on behalf of the government

"We are progressing our £140million investment plans, topping franchise league tables for customer satisfaction and delivering 30% higher payments to the taxpayer than when the route was in public ownership, and we are happy to assist the work of the Transport Committee."

A Department for Transport official said: "The Transport Secretary has been clear over the issues facing the East Coast rail franchise and the next steps we will take to protect services for passengers.

"We will work with the Transport Select Committee on this inquiry."