Rail franchises operators & contracts


East Coast back in public hands under same leadership and staff

The East Coast franchise has been officially handed back to public control as the first branded London North Eastern Railway (LNER) train departed from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh today.

The inaugural journey marks the formal termination of the Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) operation – a move which was first hinted at last year – and represents the third failure of the East Coast franchise in just over 10 years.

It also symbolises the return of one of Britain’s most iconic rail brands, which was last seen in 1948.

David Horne, VTEC’s former managing director, was handed the same role at the refreshed LNER franchise. In an interview with the Press Association, he emphasised that he was not involved in the 2013-14 bidding process and argued that his appointment was “absolutely the right thing to do.”

“The fact I’m transferring and everybody in the company is transferring will give us stability so we can remain focused on ensuring that we continue to deliver a successful train service for our customers,” Horne said, adding that the TOC had a really short period of time to prepare for new operations— given that Chris Grayling only announced the transition date in mid-May.

The rest of the VTEC team has also transferred across to the new brand, from operational management to station staff and train guards, in order to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.

Speaking today, the LNER managing director assured customers and employees that “it is business as usual.” There will be no changes to the services customers use on the East Coast Main Line (ECML), all existing tickets remain valid, new tickets can all be bought in the same way, and the same scheduled trains are in operation. LNER will also take over VTEC’s social media channels.

“As we go through the initial transition period we remain absolutely committed to running the high levels of service that customers have come to expect,” Horne continued. “It is the staff who underpin the customer experience on the East Coast, so we’re delighted they have transferred with us and that customers can rely on seeing the same faces at their local station and on their usual train.”

Rail minister Jo Johnson noted that the LNER launch is just the first step towards establishing the East Coast Partnership, which will bring “track and train closer together” in a similar model as to what is being done in renewed franchises countrywide.

As expected, LNER will progress with VTEC’s investment in the ECML, including by rolling out the brand-new Azuma trains alongside Hitachi and delivering timetable and station improvements.

Top image: c. Danny Lawson, PA Wire


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