Improvements pledge as Government takes over rail route

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The Independent Online

The Government today promised improved services on a key London to Scotland rail route which it will take back into public ownership from midnight tonight.

There will be £12 million worth of station improvements on the East Coast Main Line, which is being handed back to the Department for Transport by cash-strapped franchise holder National Express.



There will also be improved catering and the abolition of reservation charges on the line which will be run for the next two years by a public company - East Coast.



Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said today: "East Coast will remain in public hands for two years and there will be full continuity of service. But this is not a care and maintenance job. I want to see real improvements in the service and better value for money.



"East Coast staff have real pride in their jobs: they want to offer a fantastic service, and the new company will give them the tools for the job.



"This is a profitable railway - it needs to be the pride of its passengers and staff too and that's my aim for East Coast."



Saddled with huge £1.3 billion premiums it had to pay to the Government over the lifetime of the franchise, National Express announced last July that it would only fund its East Coast operation for a few more months.



Lord Adonis said then that the line, which runs from King's Cross station in London to destinations including York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness, would be taken back into the public sector when National Express's funding ceased.



Improvements and changes include:



* An end to charges for seat reservations from January 1 2010;



* £12 million for improvements at stations, including enhancements to Newcastle, York, and Peterborough;



* An immediate review of on-board catering in both standard and first class, with a view to improvements from next year;



* Better standards of cleanliness on board trains and at East Coast managed stations;



* Further service improvements including a new Saturday evening service from King's Cross to Leeds and an additional Sunday morning service from Leeds to King's Cross;



* The withdrawal of the planned gating of York station in order to maintain the existing through access for non-passengers, while accelerating the completion of gating at King's Cross to deter fare-dodgers.



East Coast chairman Elaine Holt said: "On day one it's about business as usual for staff and customers. In the coming weeks and months, our first priority is to deliver 'the basics' to a consistently high standard.



"That means systematically maintaining a good reliable and punctual train service; helpful and proactive staff; well- maintained, clean and accessible stations and trains; and good quality information for every step of the journey.



"Over time we'll introduce further improvements to the service, the stations and the trains - our aim is to make sure that East Coast is the preferred way to travel along the length of the route and the best performing long distance rail operator."



Opposition MPs and rail unions have said the East Coast situation demonstrates what they describe as the weakness of the rail franchise system.



There have also been calls for National Express to be forced to give up its other two rail franchises - East Anglia and the London to Tilbury and Southend franchise c2c.



National Express has said it will resist attempts to end the two franchises.



Rail unions have also called for East Coast to remain permanently in the public sector. But the Government plans to invite parties to bid for the franchise which will eventually be put back into private hands.

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