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Last Updated: Friday, 7 May, 2004, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Firms battle for East Coast line
GNER train
GNER was awarded the franchise in 1996
Four companies have entered the race to take over the running of one of Britain's busiest rail lines.

GNER which currently operates trains on the East Coast Main Line faces a challenge to win a new franchise from the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).

First Group, Danish Railways and the Inter City-Railways consortium - comprising Stagecoach, Virgin and Deutsche Bahn - will also bid.

The new franchise for the line will run from May 2005 for seven years.

It involves providing services between London, parts of East Anglia, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, Humberside, the North East and Scotland along the East Coast Main Line and other routes.

'Detailed bids'

The SRA expects to announce a preferred bidder this winter.

SRA Chairman Richard Bowker said: "All of these parties are strong players with considerable rail experience.

"It is particularly good to see strong international participation.

"The parties had to reach a high threshold to pre-qualify, and we now look forward to inviting them to submit detailed bids outlining what they will do for passengers and taxpayers."

Christopher Garnett, GNER's chief executive, said earlier that the company was ready for the tough competition.

He said: "There is a lot of good work to build on and much more to do. Our goal is to continue to be the best rail operator in Britain.

Flagship route

"We look forward to serving our passengers and communities on this flagship route for many years to come and to keep raising standards on their behalf."

First Group, which has taken over the Trans Pennine franchise from Arriva Trains Northern, also said it regarded the East Coast route as core territory for them.

First's chief executive Moir Lockhead said: "We look forward to working with the Strategic Rail Authority and all of our stakeholders on proposals to develop this flagship route.

"We welcome the opportunity to deliver substantially improved performance and high quality service to customers along the East Coast Mainline."

The Joint Venture will be one-third owned by Stagecoach, Virgin and Deutsche Bahn as partners and will bid for intercity rail franchises in the UK.

The Joint Venture will operate independently of Virgin and Stagecoach's existing UK rail interests.

It said details of the bid would not be made public until the appropriate time but passengers could expect an "innovative bid, involving rolling stock and service enhancements".

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