The troubled history of the East Coast rail franchise

Virgin Trains East Coast said it was 'surprised and disappointed' by the Government's decision. Credit: PA

Rail services on the East Coast Main Line will be brought back under public control following the termination of the franchise agreement with Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC), Stagecoach Group has said.

The firm, which owns 90% of VTEC, said it was “surprised and disappointed” that the Government chose not to award it a new deal to continue running services on the London to Edinburgh route.

However, in February Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the Commons that the franchise would only be able to continue in its current form for a “very small number of months” as Stagecoach had “got its numbers wrong” and “overbid”.

But it is not the first time the East Coast rail franchise has run into trouble, nor the first time it has been nationalised.

The East Coast rail franchise has had a troubled history. Credit: PA Graphics
  • April 1996: East Coast Main Line is privatised, after being in public ownership since 1948. Sea Containers begins a seven-year contract to operate the franchise, operating under the brand name Great North Eastern Railway (GNER).

  • January 2002: GNER's contract is extended until 2005.

  • March 2005: GNER is awarded a contract to continue operating the franchise, due to run for another seven years.

  • December 2006: Sea Containers is stripped of the East Coast franchise due to financial difficulties. The Government puts the franchise up for re-tender, with GNER allowed to run trains until a new owner is found.

  • August 2007: Franchise is awarded to National Express, which begins operating in December 2007 under the brand name National Express East Coast (NXEC).

  • July 2009: NXEC is stripped of the franchise due to financial difficulties. Government announces it will nationalise the line and run the franchise through a publicly-owned company.

The troubled line runs between Edinburgh and London. Credit: PA
  • November 2009: Government-owned operator East Coast takes over the franchise.

  • March 2015: East Coast line is privatised again. Stagecoach/Virgin begins an eight-year contract to operate the franchise, under the brand name Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC).

  • November 2017: Government announces VTEC contract will end in 2020 due to financial difficulties.

  • February 2018: Government announces VTEC contract will now end in mid-2018.

  • May 2018: East Coast line to be nationalised once again. Government-owned operator London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) to take over the franchise from June 24.