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East Coast (Virgin Trains East Coast)

What is happening now?

The Secretary of State for Transport made some significant announcements about East Coast and other franchises in parliament on Monday 5 February 2018.

The Secretary of State confirmed that the East Coast financial position was ‘much more urgent’ than previously indicated and can only survive a small number of months. A breach notice has been served and options for a successor arrangement are now being assessed.

One option could be to negotiate a short term Direct Award with Stagecoach but only on a not-for-profit basis. The only reward possible would be at end of contract subject to passenger benefits being delivered. The other alternative is a return to direct control through an Operator of Last Resort. Officials are now undertaking a full appraisal and the assessment of options will be published to demonstrate a transparent decision.

Stagecoach will be allowed to bid for other franchises as there are no legal remedies to prevent this. However, this will be kept under close scrutiny and constant review.

Our press statement is on the website here. The key points are that passengers must be assured that services will continue to run, quality must be maintained or improved and planned investments should continue.

The full text of Grayling’s speech is available here.


In November 2017 the Department for Transport (DfT) announced that it would be launching a new ‘long-term regional partnership’ called the East Coast Partnership from 2020. This will see the operator and Network Rail working together, developing future plans and a ‘one-team’ identity and brand.

In the meantime there will be discussions with the current operator on the short-term needs for the franchise.

The previous competition to run this franchise was won by Inter City Railways, a consortium of Stagecoach and Virgin. The new eight-year contract started on 1 March 2015 and is operating under the name Virgin Trains East Coast.

The Intercity Express Programme will see 39 older trains with replaced with 65 new high-speed electric trains by 2020, improving frequency and journey times. New services will be introduced from London to key destinations.

We were pleased to see the new franchise offer commitments to lower headline fares and increased capacity, both of which are high passenger priorities for improvement. Passenger experience will be directly reflected in the contract which includes targets for National Rail Passenger Survey satisfaction scores for stations, trains and customer service. Virgin Trains East Coast are also required to publish a Customer Report setting out the promises it has made for the franchise.

Our role in the franchising process

We will be working with the DfT to understand how plans for the proposed East Coast Partnership will be taken forward. We will seek to ensure that passenger interests are placed at the heart of these arrangements.

When the previous franchise process was re-launched in 2013 we assessed our existing research to ensure that we had sufficient information about what passengers told us were the key issues in the East Coast franchise replacement. We held detailed discussions with the DfT to highlight what passengers would want from the new franchise and provided advice on the customer experience and stations elements of the bidders’ delivery plans. We also carried out an exercise on behalf of the DfT to get feedback and aspirations from individual passengers about the East Coast service for bidders to refer to when developing their plans.

Having held discussions with all the shortlisted bidders during their bid development, we continued to work with Inter City Railways on their policies and plans as they mobilised for the franchise.

Our ongoing role

Now that the franchise is in operation we continue to use our rail research to ensure that it has passenger priorities at its heart. Key to this are the National Rail Passenger Survey results that are presented and discussed with Virgin Trains East Coast, highlighting areas that need improvement. We also hold meetings to discuss performance, both on a regular, proactive basis and to react to any poor performance.

We continue our statutory role in helping passengers with their unresolved rail complaints. Where a passenger has been unable to resolve their complaint directly with Virgin Trains East Coast we work with them to achieve a better outcome for the passenger. We use the information from these ‘appeal’ complaints to help Virgin Trains East Coast understand the root causes of unresolved complaints and continuously improve the customer service they provide.

To view our National Rail Passenger Survey reports or to access these and our appeal complaints data through our Data Explorer tool, please click on the links below:

NRPS                                                                   Data Explorer

Transport Focus reports and publications
November 2014 Transport Focus response to announcement of award
February 2014 Passengers’ feedback about Intercity East Coast
September 2012 The InterCity East Coast franchise – a consultation response from Passenger Focus.
May 2012 What passengers want from the East Coast rail franchise – An initial submission to DfT
July 2013 What passengers want from the East Coast rail franchise – An initial submission to DfT
July 2013 Passenger Focus welcomes new Intercity Express Programme trains
March 2013 Passenger Focus letter to government and regulator on East Coast Main Line disruption
July 2012 Examining the links between customer satisfaction and performance

Click here for key Department for Transport publications


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