Who’s Going to Go Faster on the East Coast?

The shortlist of bidders who will be invited to deliver proposals for improved services for passengers on the InterCity East Coast rail franchise has been announced by the government.

The companies that have successfully passed the Pre-Qualification Evaluation stage and can now start working on developing their plans for the franchise, before they receive the government’s Invitation to Tender are:

East Coast Trains Ltd (First Group plc);
Keolis/Eurostar East Coast Limited (Keolis (UK) Limited and Eurostar International Limited);
Inter City Railways Limited (Stagecoach Transport Holdings Limited and Virgin Holdings Limited).

These potential operators will need to consider how they intend to use the latest high-tech trains, built in the UK by Agility, to deliver more passengers to more of the UK’s biggest cities faster and in greater comfort.

The government is expecting to see how the future operators will capitalise on the significant government investment along this route, including £240 million in infrastructure projects over the next five years to improve capacity and reduce journey times.

Rail Minister Stephen Hammond said: “Giving passengers more will be at the heart of the new East Coast franchise. That means new services and journeys that are faster, more punctual and more comfortable. When these companies are developing their proposals they should be looking at ways to innovate and grow the service.

“We have embarked on one of the biggest programmes of rail investment ever, with over £35 billion being spent to enhance and run our rail network over the next five years. But for our railways to continue to grow we need strong private sector partners who can invest and innovate in ways that deliver a world class service.”

Since rail services were privatised in 1993, the close cooperation between government and the train companies has heralded an unprecedented growth in the number of passengers.

While the East Coast franchise has been stabilised under government ownership since 2009, the route now needs a long term private sector operator to plan for the future and meet the increasing demands for more trains serving even more destinations.

When it started the franchise competition in October 2013 the government published the InterCity East Coast prospectus which set out the areas prospective bidders will need to consider when they start developing their proposals.  These include:
developing innovative timetables which build on the core train service requirement published by the Department for Transport (DfT);
investment in innovative ways to transform the customer experience on trains and at stations;
identifying further opportunities for investment along the route, particularly at stations;
making the route and train operations more considerate of the environment;
involving communities along the route in local decision making; and
demonstrating how their proposals will support economic growth along the route.

To pass the rigorous Pre-Qualification Evaluation each of the bidders were asked to demonstrate that they have the financial strength, legal, operational and safety experience to run the franchise.

The DfT is planning to issue the Invitation to Tender at the end of February and the potential operators will then have at least three months to develop their bids, before the new services start in February 2015.

East Coast is one of the two main London to Scotland railways providing frequent services. It is an electrified 393 miles (632 kilometres) railway link between London, Peterborough, Doncaster, Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

It is one of the fastest conventional lines in the UK with most of the line being cleared for 125 miles per hour (200 kilometres per hour) operation. Non-electrified line extends further north into Scotland from Edinburgh to Inverness and Aberdeen. The services meet demand for business travel, particularly between Edinburgh, Newcastle, York, Leeds and London, leisure travel to a variety of destinations and commuter journeys, primarily between Newark, Grantham, Peterborough and London.

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