The announcement that the East Coast franchise has been taken over by InterCity Railways, owned by Stagecoach – Virgin has a meagre 10 per cent share – has been greeted with relief by government. The thought of the SNCF taking over, deftly trailed by Marsham Street lamplighters in a false-feint PR exercise, upset the Westminster bubble.
The prospect of a French-owned Eurostar connecting with a French- operated East Coast looked like lending a new chemin de fer ring to the Auld Alliance – unsettling after the bruising referendum on Scots independence.
However, Stagecoach remains firmly British and headquartered in Perth. An extensive portfolio includes South West Trains, Island Line, Sheffield Supertram and East Midlands Trains. Together with Virgin, it runs the West Coast franchise in which it has a 49 per cent stake.
Stagecoach and Virgin plan to introduce 23 new services out of King’s Cross by 2023 whilst introducing the new fleet of Hitachi-built Super Express intercity trains.
As well as the usual paint and progress initiatives, InterCity Railways promises a ‘Red Track’ graduate training programme, new apprenticeships and a new National Academy for
Rail Professional Education based in York, Derby and London. East Coast employees will have a voice on a new innovation council. Staff will be given ways to own a share of the business through employee share incentive arrangements.
Although Stagecoach saw off the French, popular opinion remains divided about railway franchising. East Coast operated well in the public sector after the National Express debacle, feeding around £1 billion back to the treasury since 2009.
Whether directed from Paris or Perth, East Coast staff are among the most respected in the business, a clear advantage for new owners who are contracted to pay the HM Treasury £3.3 billion over the eight-year life of the franchise.