David Horne, managing director of Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC), which had its first full day in charge of the route yesterday, promised extra services between Edinburgh and London, faster journey times, reductions in the most expensive fares and hot food delivered to passengers’ seats.
VTEC – a joint venture between Virgin and Stagecoach – was awarded the east coast franchise, despite protests at the UK government’s decision to reprivatise a business which appeared to prosper under public ownership.
The two previous private contracts for running the route collapsed and the route has been operated since 2009 by publicly-owned East Coast Trains, which returned more than £1 billion to the taxpayer along with £40 million profits.
But Mr Horne said he believed the private sector could do a better job. “I’m certain it’s the right approach for passengers and the taxpayer,” he said.
“There are two major transport operators behind the franchise. Clearly on the west coast route they have a lot of experience of what it takes to make a business like this a success – the plans have been stress-tested financially and we’re very confident we can succeed.”
From May 2016, there will be two additional services between Edinburgh and London every Sunday. And from May 2019 two trains per hour between the two capitals from Monday to Friday.
Average Edinburgh-London journey times are to be cut from 4 hours 25 mins to 4 hours 10 mins from May 2019. And from May 2020, one of the two trains per hour from Edinburgh to London will take under four hours.
The cost of “anytime” fares – the most expensive tickets, with maximum flexibility – is due to be cut by ten per cent from the current Edinburgh-London prices of £156.50 single and £313 return. But there is no commitment yet to reducing other fares.
Mr Horne promised improved catering. “We’re going to be bringing back freshly-cooked breakfasts in first class, cooked by a chef on board.
“And in standard class we plan to give passengers the ability to order hot food which will be delivered to them in their seats.”
Mr Horne said that, later this year, VTEC would begin a £21m makeover of existing trains but by 2020 there would be a new fleet of 65 trains to replace the current 45-strong stock.
The longer “super express” trains will be manufactured by Hitachi in the north-east of England, with the first due to be delivered in 2018.