“The 19:99 experiment to franchising terminates here. All change, please. All change. For details of onward connections please consult DfT staff”. Or at least words to that affect. The DfT has finally announced franchising is no more. The announcement was not unexpected. SENRUG, via Railfuture, had contributed to The Williams Review, and of course here on the East Coast Main Line, we have experienced the successive financial failure of each of the 3 franchisees (Sea Containers / GNER, National Express and Stagecoach / Virgin) who had won competitions to run the line by bidding more than they could afford. But we were waiting to hear what would replace it. Service contracts were what was expected, and in fact due to the COVID crisis, we had already slipped into that through government support to the rail industry during a time of plummeting passenger numbers. DfT has merely announced this system of service contracts will now continue. We are advised greater co-operation between operators can now be expected. Could that be of benefit to Cramlington, and deliver it a morning service to Newcastle before the current first arrival of 08:22? SENRUG will certainly campaign for that. And what of open access operators – in particular East Coast Trains (from FirstGroup) who are due to start their new service from Morpeth next year. We certainly hope this welcome new service will not be derailed by either the Covid crisis or today’s announcement.
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