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Friday, 15 June, 2001, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
East Coast line 'facing chaos'
Edinburgh Waverley, the Scottish end of the line
Virgin and BNER are bidding for the franchise
The main railway line linking Scotland and London is facing chaos, according to train passenger groups.

Passenger representatives are concerned about the delay in awarding the franchise for the East Coast main line.

Jim Beale, from the rail passengers' committee for the East Coast main line, told BBC News that action was urgently needed to sort out the franchise.

"The thing that has put back the announcement is that the estimates of the associated infrastructure costs seems to be bounding up every time anyone looks at it," he said.

Extra demands

Rail company Virgin has been competing with the present incumbent, GNER, for the franchise and a decision from the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) has been long awaited.

But the authority suspended the competition process in mid-February after Railtrack announced the cost of upgrading the track and signals on the line could increase by between 20% and nearly 100%.

Railtrack said it had increased the upper end of its cost estimates after extra demands were made by the SRA.

Railtrack also said estimates were difficult when it was not known who would be taking over the franchise and when the SRA had yet to publish its overall strategic plan for the railways

Increase capacity

The upgrading of the route would involve investment by a combination of Railtrack, the SRA and the franchise winner.

Both Virgin, which already runs the West Coast mainline route, and GNER had produced plans to increase capacity and cut journey times as part of their submission to the SRA in their attempt to win the franchise.

GNER, which is owned by the shipping company, Sea Containers, proposes to upgrade the line for 140mph tilting trains.

The proposal by Virgin and Stagecoach would lay 120 miles of new track, bring in 220mph trains and allow extra destinations, including Sunderland, to be served by direct trains from London.

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See also:

13 Mar 01 | Scotland
Scotland in line for rail boost
06 Mar 00 | Business
Virgin's 200mph East Coast vision
07 Dec 99 | Business
Virgin aims for third rail franchise
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