After Virgin Trains East Coast announced they were unable to meet their financial obligations on the East Coast Mainline the government have appointed advisors from Arup, SNC-Lavalin and Ernst & Young to prepare for the possibility of the government taking the franchise in-house.
We have been barred from mentioning this in March but we can now reveal that East Coast will be taken back into public ownership on the 20th May when the summer timetable comes into operation.
We were approached by the advisors to ask about what we would like to see with a new East Coast. The aim of the government is to reassure passengers that service will continue as usual while trying to increase custom on the line.
The aim is to restore faith in the East Coast franchise. Those who travel regularly on the route have experienced issues with not getting the advertised catering, we called this the Catering Lottery, the government understands that having a high quality catering offering is key to winning over passengers.
The plan is to bring back the well known and popular East Coast brand. One train will be presented in a full East Coast livery for marketing purposes but the remaining trains will stay in the current livery but with the Virgin branding removed. The current plan is to run the network as East Coast until 2020 when the East Coast Partnership franchise will be tendered.
A new menu is due to be launched with the timetable change on the 20 May, this will still happen. No changes to the catering offering will be made, the intention is to ensure that the catering offering becomes more reliable but they will be no change to what is offered.
The key message is that the short term nothing significant will change onboard. The same great people will be there and additional people will be employed to ensure the service is delivered as expected.
The removal of Virgin Trains East Coast also means that the contract with Nectar can be terminated. We have highlighted to the Department for Transport the benefits a decent rewards scheme can bring and they intend to relaunch Eastt Coast Rewards when they take over in May although spending of points will not be available immediately, it's expected to be available by July. Currently details on the scheme are light but it's expected that points can be used for free travel on East Coast as was offered by the original scheme.