Search for East Coast rail operator
Passengers on a key long-distance rail route have been promised "innovative timetables" and a better travelling experience when the line goes back into the private sector.
The new operators of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) - which is currently being run in the public sector - will also have to demonstrate how they will support economic growth on the London to Scotland route.
Just what will be required of the company which will ultimately run the line was laid down today as the Government officially launched the search for a new operator by publishing an East Coast prospectus.
The line has been run under the control of the Department for Transport (DfT) since National Express pulled out of the franchise in November 2009.
Labour and rail unions have bitterly opposed the reprivatisation of the line, pointing to the fact that East Coast has returned large amounts of money to the Treasury since it has been in the public sector.
Labour has also been unhappy at what it sees as the haste by the Government to get the East Coast line back into private hands even though the whole nationwide franchise programme has been put back and altered following the West Coast bidding process fiasco.
The InterCity East Coast prospectus announced today details what potential bidders will need to consider when they start developing their proposals next year. These include:
:: Developing innovative timetables which build on the core train service requirement published by the DfT;
:: I nvestment in innovative ways to transform the customer experience on trains and at stations;
:: Identifying further opportunities for investment along the route, particularly at stations;
:: Making the route and train operations more sensitive to the environment;
:: Involving communities along the route in local decision making;
:: Demonstrating how their proposals will support economic growth along the route.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "We want to see a revitalised East Coast railway, one that both rekindles the spirit of competition for customers on this great route to Scotland and competes with the West Coast on speed, quality and customer service.
"We need a strong partner to ensure we successfully deliver the £240 million programme of infrastructure investments on the route and the improvements in rolling stock that the multi-billion Intercity Express programme will provide. "
The Government said today that running the line in the public sector had never been planned to be a permanent arrangement. Indeed Labour, although now cool on the idea, had intended to return East Coast to private ownership when it was in power prior to the 2010 general election.
The new operator will be expected to capitalise on Government investment in this route over the next six years, including the replacement of the current rolling stock fleet, and major infrastructure improvements such as the £72 million programme to improve the line around Peterborough and £20 million enhancements to Doncaster station.
The DfT plans to confirm which prospective bidders have passed the pre-qualification stage in January. The DfT expects to issue the invitation to tender in February. The shortlisted bidders will then have three months to prepare bids, with franchise services starting in February 2015.
East Coast is one of the two main London-to-Scotland railways providing frequent services. It is an electrified 393-mile railway link between London, Peterborough, Doncaster, Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
A non-electrified line extends further north into Scotland from Edinburgh to Inverness and Aberdeen.
Channel Tunnel high-speed train company Eurostar has said it wants to bid for the East Coast franchise in partnership with French company Keolis which already runs a number of UK domestic lines.