FASTER journeys between Scotland and London and the first new trains for up to 30 years will form part of the next east coast rail franchise, which French consortium Eurostar/Keolis is expected to win tomorrow.
The move came as Scottish Labour leadership candidate Neil Findlay joined those condemning the UK Government for re-privatising the service, which has been state run for five years.
The eight-year contract, which starts in March, would see East Coast trains handed over to the company which operates passenger services through the Channel Tunnel and a French government-controlled firm which jointly runs four English rail franchise, and trams in Nottingham.
Keolis is 70 per cent owned by state-run French rail company SNCF.
Closer links are likely between east coast main line services, which terminate at King’s Cross in London and adjacent St Pancras, from where Eurostar trains leave for Paris and Brussels.
The east coast franchise will see two new fleets, totalling 65 trains, introduced in 2018.
They will have nearly one fifth more seats than current trains and an extra 2in of legroom in airline-style seats.
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Journeys between Edinburgh and London will be cut by up to 15 minutes to around four hours from 2020, when the full fleets are in service, thanks to the trains’ faster acceleration and braking.
Trips between Aberdeen, Inverness and London will be reduced by around half an hour.
Experts said such improvements were long awaited because some journeys were now slower than when the Glasgow/Edinburgh-London line was electrified in the 1990s because trains stopped more frequently.
One of the fleets of Hitachi trains will replace 1980s vintage diesel High Speed Trains which operate between Aberdeen, Inverness and London.
They will run on electric power as far north as Edinburgh, then switch to diesel.
The other, purely electric fleet, will run services between Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, replacing 20-year-old trains.
The trains are expected to be up to five times as reliable as those they replace.
They will be built from 2016 at a new factory being fitted out near Durham, which will also supply a separate new fleet for ScotRail’s new Dutch operator Abellio, to run on the newly-electrified main Edinburgh-Glasgow line from late 2017.
The east coast franchise was effectively re-nationalised by Labour in 2009 after operator National Express abandoned the contract because of losses after submitting an overambitious bid.
Neil Findlay said the service had run successfully in government hands and should remain.
He said: “This is a disgraceful proposal, Tory dogmatism at its worst.
“The east coast line makes money for the taxpayer. It should be a model for all the other rail franchises – not a prize to be scooped up by the French government.
“All of the UK’s railways should be in public hands – and here in Scotland we should be making the case that the next ScotRail franchise will be the last.”
The comments come a day after Edinburgh East Labour MP Sheila Gilmore highlighted that profits from the east coast franchise would now go to France.
She said: “Ironically if the contract is awarded to Keolis, ticket revenue may well be reinvested in improved services.
“Unfortunately, these will be services between places like Paris and Lyon or Marseille and Monaco, rather than Edinburgh and London.
“A future Labour Government would allow a public sector operator to bid for rail contracts, so that passengers and taxpayers always get value for money.”
Confirmation of the move will come as a significant blow to the two other shortlisted bidders, both of which involve major Scottish firms.
Aberdeen-based FirstGroup is still reeling from losing both the ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper franchises, as revealed by The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday respectively.
The other contender, a consortium of Virgin and Perth-based-Stagecoach, has made numerous bids for the east coast franchise since it was first privatised in 1996.
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