New services between Harrogate and London and upgraded train interiors were promised today as the Government announced the companies which will run East Coast Main Line services.
A joint venture by Virgin Trains and Stagecoach, to be known as Inter City Railways, has won the race to take over from the Government-backed company East Coast which has run the line since 2009.
Promised improvements for Harrogate include an additional six trains to and from London per day from 2019, upgraded train interiors introduced between 2015 and 2017 and new high speed IEP trains from 2020 providing: more reliable services, more seats, more luggage space, faster journey times and improved wi-fi and mobile coverage.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP has welcomed the news.
Andrew Jones said: “In a decade we will have gone from having little or no direct service to and from London to at least six direct trains between Harrogate and London. It is important to have these new services for many reasons.
“Easy and quick connections always bring an economic benefit with them. These new services could boost business and leisure tourism.
“The new services also help strengthen the case for electrification of the Leeds – Harrogate line. While it is important we have these services with modern carriages and facilities, it would be odd to run them on a line which doesn’t enable them to perform at their best.
“Only this week we have heard that Northern Rail are investing approaching £1million in Harrogate station. With this new franchise we will see a further investment of £25 in mainline stations. Combined with the electrification programme the government has begun this is the biggest investment in rail since Victorian times.
“I am very pleased that Harrogate is getting a significant enhancement to its connections to London.”
Today’s announcement means Sir Richard Branson’s company Virgin will from next year be running the UK’s two main London to Scotland rail routes. Virgin and Stagecoach already operate the West Coast main line from Euston.
Transport unions, upset that East Coast has not remained in the public sector, described the franchise announcement as “an utter betrayal” and an example of “sheer political spite”.
There had been speculation that a consortium of Eurotunnel and French company Keolis, which is 70% owned by French state railway SNCF, had been chosen as the new East Coast operator.
Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said the travelling public had been “sold down the river” and added that he had written to the Department for Transport’s permanent secretary asking him to postpone the East Coast franchise process.
Mr Dugher said: “The taxpayer and the travelling public have been sold down the river. This whole franchise process shouldn’t have happened.
“It’s absurd that our own public operator is the only rail company in the world that has been barred from challenging to run its own services, on the ideological grounds that it is British and publicly owned.”
National Express’s pull-out from the East Coast franchise had been preceded by the withdrawal of another private sector operator of the line, GNER.