The former boss of failed rail franchise Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) has described his appointment as head of its publicly owned replacement as “the right thing to do”.
David Horne was managing director of VTEC and was handed the same title at nationalised operator London North Eastern Railway (LNER) as part of the transition.
LNER began operating the vital route between London and Scotland on Sunday after VTEC’s deal to pay the Government £3.3 billion to run services was ended early because the bid was too ambitious.
In an interview with the Press Association, Mr Horne stressed that he “was not involved” in the 2013/14 bidding process and only joined the company at the beginning of 2015.
“In these circumstances, it’s absolutely the right thing to do,” he said.
He explained that stability and continuity are “really important” for LNER.
“The fact I’m transferring and everybody in the company is transferring will give us stability so we can remain focused on ensuring that we continue to deliver a successful train service for our customers,” Mr Horne said.
With the transition date only announced by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling on May 16, LNER has had “a really short period of time to prepare”, he said.
“Normally when you change a franchise you have a lot longer.”
VTEC, a joint venture between Stagecoach (90%) and Virgin (10%), began operating in March 2015.
The firms agreed to pay the Government £3.3 billion to run trains until 2023, but the contract was ended prematurely after they failed to achieve revenue targets.
LNER will operate until a public-private partnership takes responsibility for both trains and track operations in 2020.
The switch from VTEC to LNER is costing an estimated £8 million, which includes marketing, rebranding and IT set up.
VTEC is the third private operator to fail to complete the full length of a contract to run East Coast services.
GNER was stripped of the route in 2007 after its parent company suffered financial difficulties, while National Express withdrew in 2009.
Trains were run by the Department for Transport for six years up to VTEC taking over.
On Sunday the first LNER service departed from Newcastle to London King’s Cross at 7.54am.
Mr Horne praised the customer service performance of VTEC under his leadership, noting that it recorded the highest passenger satisfaction score among all long-distance franchised operators in the Transport Focus autumn 2017 report.
“I’m actually really proud of what we have achieved in those challenging circumstances because we have done a huge amount to improve the service that customers receive,” he said.
Labour and trade unions have described Mr Grayling’s decision to end the VTEC franchise early as a “bail out”.