Lincoln-London trains in doubt as franchise terminated

The promised hourly direct trains between Lincoln and London from 2019 are in doubt as the franchise will be brought back under public control.

The East Coast Main Line will be nationalised once again as the franchise agreement from Stagecoach Group (90%) and Virgin Trains (10%) has been terminated.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling took the decision after the public accounts committee found last month that forecasts for passenger growth from the franchisees were “wildly wrong” and proved that rail franchising was a “broken model”.

Virgin Trains East Coast’s contract will be ended on June 24. He will then appoint an “operator of last resort” to run the train services on the line.

The original franchise was signed in 2015 but poor passenger numbers and revenues meant heavy losses for the partnership — some £200 million.

Lincoln was meant to get direct trains to and from London every two hours from May 2019.

The city currently has one direct morning train to King’s Cross and one direct evening return service to Lincoln Central operated by Virgin East Coast (the rest are connections via Newark through East Midlands Trains).

But from May 2019 there were meant to be an additional five direct trains to London, and an extra six return trains to Lincoln per day.

The future of the services is now uncertain as the Department for Transport, Stagecoach and Virgin are yet to clarify the situation.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, the train drivers’ union, said: “This is the third time in 10 years that a private company has mucked up the east coast main line. In contrast, when it was run in the public sector, it returned £1bn to the Treasury.”

Stagecoach Group Chief Executive Martin Griffiths said he was “surprised and disappointed”: “We will work constructively with the DfT and the OLR in the weeks ahead to ensure a professional transfer to the new arrangements, supporting our employees and maintaining the same clear focus on our customers as we have over the past three years.”