Branson to bid for East Coast line

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VIRGIN TRAINS, the company running one of Britain's least reliable rail services, declared yesterday it was to bid for the main East Coast franchise with a plan to make big reductions in journey times.

Virgin, which runs the West Coast services between London and Scotland, said it would introduce 140mph trains much sooner than the present East Coast operator. Richard Branson, the chairman, said his firm could cut the time from London to Newcastle from 2hr 50min to 2hr 15min; London to Edinburgh from 4hr 10min to 3hr 30min and London to Aberdeen from 7hr to 5hr 30min.

Asked whether the bid was simply shadow boxing between him and James Sherwood, the chief executive of Sea Containers, which owns the Great North Eastern Railway, Mr Branson said: "I've never been more serious."

Meanwhile, Railtrack confirmed that it would announce today its decision to abandon state-of-the-art signalling systems on the West Coast route until they were proved to be more reliable.

Rival bids, page 16