MPs press for GNER to retain franchise

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Companies bidding for the flagship rail franchise between London and Edinburgh are facing an unprecedented wave of public and parliamentary support for the incumbent Great North Eastern Railways (GNER).

Companies bidding for the flagship rail franchise between London and Edinburgh are facing an unprecedented wave of public and parliamentary support for the incumbent Great North Eastern Railways (GNER).

Nearly 20,000 individuals are said to have signed a petition in favour of GNER and MPs have tabled an early day motion backing the bid. It is thought to be the first time since privatisation that such a parliamentary device has been used to support a particular train operator.

The incumbent, however, is facing a tough battle from rival bidders who believe they would be able to provide the Treasury with more cash for the privilege of running the East Coast mainline route.

Last year GNER, a subsidiary of Sea Containers, paid a premium to the Government of more than £20m, but ministers are seeking up to £100m a year. The three groups in competition with the incumbent are a joint proposal from Virgin and Stagecoach, a bid from First Group and one from Danish State Railways, which is advised by the freight group English, Welsh and Scottish. The identity of the preferred bidder is expected to be announced in February and the new operator will take over at the beginning of May.

The early day motion has been signed by 20 MPs of all parties representing constituencies on the route. It says that GNER has provided "high quality" services and some fares had fallen since privatisation.

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