Virgin Trains and FirstGroup to compete on East Coast Main Line
12 May 2016 • Author: Katie Sadler, Digital Content Producer, European Railway Review
The new London to Edinburgh East Coast Main Line services will benefit passengers travelling to Middlesbrough, York, Newcastle, Morpeth, Lincoln, Leeds, Bradford, Harrogate and Stevenage. The services will be phased in gradually over the coming years. Some services will enter operation once Network Rail completes its track capacity programme.
“These new train services will give passengers more choice on services to Edinburgh and London”
The ORR received applications from three train operators seeking to introduce new train services on the East Coast Main Line in 2014 and 2015. The regulator carried out extensive consultation and analysis of the competing applications, looking at the benefits they would bring to passengers, the effect on public funds, the benefits of competition, and whether they would make best use of the capacity on the route.
In a statement regarding its decision the ORR said, ‘The result is that we have approved the applications from Virgin Trains East Coast and from FirstGroup. We have not approved applications from the Great North Eastern Railway Company Limited (GNER).’
ORR approves East Coast Main Line applications from Virgin Trains East Coast and FirstGroup
John Larkinson, ORR’s Director of Railway Markets and Economics said: “These new train services will give passengers more choice on services to Edinburgh and London and provide more frequent trains to towns and cities which are not so well served by rail today.
“We thank all the applicants, Network Rail and other participants for their thorough input and engagement throughout this process.
“Our decision has been informed by extensive analysis, formal industry hearings and detailed engagement with all parties. We have carefully weighed up the potential passenger benefits and the financial impacts on existing operators and the government, as we are required to do by law.
Reacting to today’s announcement, Tim O’Toole, FirstGroup’s Chief Executive, said: “I’m pleased that the ORR has granted track access rights for our unique low-cost service between London, the North East of England and Edinburgh. This is great news for passengers, as our new service will widen the choice of travel options between these cities and offer an attractive alternative to those available today.
“Our brand new trains will be cheaper than other rail services, greener than the plane, quicker than the coach and will get passengers from London to Edinburgh earlier”
“We will offer genuinely low fares at half the average price of today, while adding significant benefits to the UK economy. Our brand new trains will be cheaper than other rail services, greener than the plane, quicker than the coach and will get passengers from London to Edinburgh earlier than they can arrive today.
“Now that our application has been approved and we have been granted rights we will implement the next steps to deliver our proposals which include discussions with Network Rail and rolling stock manufacturers.”
“We do not believe the granting of these services within a franchised system and without a level playing field is in the best interests of passengers, taxpayers or communities”
Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stagecoach Group plc, who own a 90 percent shareholding in Virgin Trains East Coast, said: “We are pleased that Virgin Trains East Coast’s application has been approved by the ORR. Customers are at the heart of our extensive £140m investment plans to grow the East Coast franchise and provide a high quality, competitive alternative to air and road travel. We look forward to the introduction of our new Virgin Azuma trains from 2018. In the meantime, we are continuing to deliver on our plans by cutting journey times, transforming on-board service, expanding the timetable, linking communities and making significant premium payments to Government.
“With respect to the decision on open access between London and Edinburgh, we do not believe the granting of these services within a franchised system and without a level playing field is in the best interests of passengers, taxpayers or communities.
“We will assess the ORR decision and implications in detail and review our options.”
“Competition between operators as well as competition for the right to run franchises can deliver real benefits for passengers and taxpayers”
Responding to the announcement, Paul Plummer, Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Competition between operators as well as competition for the right to run franchises can deliver real benefits for passengers and taxpayers but one of our biggest challenges is to make best use of scarce capacity to provide ever-better connections between our cities and this requires a clear and consistent approach to franchising, competition and regulation.”