Thursday 12 May 2016

FirstGroup to Run East Coast Services

New London-Edinburgh Low Fares Rail Service To Offer Choice For Passengers and
                             Boost Economic Growth

FirstGroup plc ('the Group') has been granted approval to launch open access
rail services between London, north-east England and Edinburgh "offering great
value fares and high-quality service, whilst giving passengers on the route a new 
travel choice".
The ten-year track access rights application approved by the Office of Rail and 
Road (ORR) will enable the Group's East Coast Trains Limited to begin operating
five trains a day each way from London King's Cross to Edinburgh, via
intermediate stations at Stevenage, Newcastle and Morpeth, by 2021. Passengers
will benefit from an average fare of less than £25, free Wi-Fi and on-board
catering, all offered in one high-quality class of travel.
The new service is designed to provide choice for passengers looking to travel
between London, north-east England and Scotland, and will encourage travellers
to switch from air or coach travel to rail.

Tim O'Toole, Chief Executive, commented:

"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.
"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, all for an average fare of less than £25.
"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." 
 Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stagecoach Group plc, who already run services on 
the East Coast line under current franchise agreements  said: 
"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."

The good news for Stagecoach Group is that the ORR has approved the application made by Virgin Trains East Coast ("VTEC"), in which Stagecoach has a 90% shareholding, to run new services between London and Edinburgh, Harrogate, Lincoln and Middlesbrough. These services formed part of VTEC's successful bid for the East Coast rail franchise, which started in March 2015 and is planned to run until at least 31 March 2023.

VTEC's core existing timetable has been approved from December 2017 when the current access contract expires.  In addition, VTEC has been granted firm rights for service extensions to Bradford, Lincoln and Harrogate from May 2019, and for Edinburgh and Middlesbrough from May 2021. Should capacity become available sooner, VTEC's additional rights for service extensions to Edinburgh could start from May 2019.