Virgin and Stagecoach assume control of East Coast rail

The East Coast main line has returned to private ownership after over five years.

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By :  ,  Financial Analyst

A joint venture between Virgin and Stagecoach has officially taken control of the East Coast rail route between London and Scotland.

It marks a return to the private sector for the first time in over five years after the Department for Transport (DfT) took over from National Express in November 2009. The move came into effect on Sunday (March 1st) and will see the trains being run under the name Virgin Trains East Coast. The DfT described the move as being "the best deal for passengers".

This shift back to the private sector has been something that the coalition government has been planning since it assumed power 2010. Despite the DfT maintaining that it is a good move for passengers, Labour has severely criticised the decision. Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher called it a "hammer blow for passengers, taxpayers and employee alike".

As part of the agreement, Virgin and Stagecoach is committing an investment package of around £140 million over the next eight years. This will include the creation of 23 new services to and from London and 3,100 extra seats added by 2020 to cope with the demand of the morning rush hour.

A DfT spokesman said: "The skills and experience that the private sector provides drives forward innovation and investment, and has helped to transform our rail network into a real success story.

"We are confident that the new East Coast franchise gives the best deal for passengers."

Troubled private sector ownership

The East Coast Main Line has gone through somewhat of a mixed experience with private sector ownership. Between 1996 and 2007, the route was operated by Great Northern Eastern Railway but was forced to give up the contract when it hit financial difficulties in late-2006. This led to the ill-fated National Express ownership.

Ownership of the line lasted less than two years and after National Express failed in renegotiating the terms of the current contract, the route was placed in public hands.

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