Delays ahead for east coast mainline

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The Independent Online

Concerns were raised last night that the bidding process for the flagship east coast mainline train franchise could be seriously delayed after Virgin and Stagecoach were allowed to re-submit their proposals.

Concerns were raised last night that the bidding process for the flagship east coast mainline train franchise could be seriously delayed after Virgin and Stagecoach were allowed to re-submit their proposals.

The initial bid by the two companies - which already run the equivalent west coast express service - collapsed after their partner Deutsche Bahn, which runs the German railways, withdrew from the consortium.

Since then the Strategic Rail Authority(SRA) had sought additional information from Virgin and Stagecoach to ensure they still met the requirements.

A spokesman for the SRA said yesterday the joint bid was found to have met the criteria for pre-qualification. A more detailed tendering process would be held "within the next few weeks".

Although senior industry figures were concerned that yesterday's announcement would delay the process, a spokesman for the SRA said officials were determined the new franchisee would take over on 1 May next year. One source described the decision as "peculiar".

However, Sir Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, said he believed his company's record of investing in new trains and "focusing closely on delivering a first-class performance will enable us to work together to develop a strong bid".

Other bidders are the incumbent Great North Eastern Railways; DSB, the Danish state railway; and the First Group.

There is no love lost between GNER and executives at Virgin and Stagecoach. Recently Christopher Garnett, chief executive of GNER, claimed the group's Voyager trains operating on the CrossCountry network were "cheap and nasty".

In a memorandum to staff Mr Garnett was forced to concede that they were given higher ratings by passengers than his own rolling stock.

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