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National Express East Coast was a train operating company in the United Kingdommarker, running high speed passenger services on the East Coast Main Line between Londonmarker and Scotlandmarker, as part of the East Coast passenger franchise. Under the privatised railway system in Great Britain, the franchise was operated by NXEC Trains Limited, a subsidiary of National Express Group, who operated the franchise in return for payments being made to the Department for Transportmarker.

National Express were awarded the right to operate the franchise in 2007 after the previous operator, Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), were forced to give up the franchise by the government early in 2006, after financial difficulties. NXEC in-turn lost its franchise on 14 November 2009.

On 1 July 2009, after unsuccessfully attempting to re-negotiate the franchise terms, the National Express Group announced it would not provide further financial support to ensure can continue operations for the full term of the franchise. In response, the government stated it would temporarily re-nationalise the franchise, handing over the assets of NXEC to a publicly owned company to continue the NXEC service levels, before an intention to re-tender the franchise in 2010.. The handover to the new operator, East Coast, took place at 23:59 on 13 November 2009.

NXEC operated long distance passenger services principally from London King's Crossmarker to Edinburghmarker via Newcastlemarker, and from King's Cross to Leedsmarker, with other services reaching into Yorkshiremarker and Scotlandmarker.


A map of National Express East Coast and connecting routes
The franchise dates back from the privatisation of British Rail process, which in respect to passenger services on the East Coast Main Line, passed the responsibility for operating passenger services from the the state owned InterCity East Coast operating division to the private Great North Eastern Railway (GNER) company, in April 1996.

GNER retained their franchise in 2005 on a 10 year basis, in return for a payment to the government of £1.3 billion, however, due to the financial difficulties of GNER's parent company Sea Containers, on 15 December 2006 the government announced it was removing the franchise from GNER and would put it up for re-tender, with the GNER operating contract transferred to a fixed fee management contract in the interim.

After the tendering process, the national transport operator National Express Group was awarded the franchise on 14 August 2007. In winning the franchise, National Express had agreed to pay the Department of Transport £1.4 billion for the right to run the service until 2015. At the time rail analysts had speculated that the Group had paid too much for the franchise. The operation of the new franchise passed to the National Express subsidiary NXEC on 9 December 2007.

Financial difficulties and nationalisation

By 2009, NXEC was under increasing financial pressure due to rising fuel prices and the ongoing economic recession. Instead of projected increases in revenue from the franchise, in the first half of 2009, NXEC ticket sales income decreased by 1%.

Due to the revenue shortfall, National Express introduced a charge of £2.50 per leg for seat reservations in Standard Class. This fee was introduced on 17 May 2009 on both the East Coast and East Anglia services. Reservations in First Class are still provided at no extra charge.

In late April 2009, National Express confirmed that it was still pursuing talks with the government over possible financial assistance with the franchise, either through a reduction in the premium due, or other assistance. On 3 May it was reported that the company had reached an "outline agreement" to effectively cancel the franchise, transferring it to a management contract, whereby National Express would receive a fixed fee for running services on the line until it could be re-tendered in one or two years.

On 1 July 2009 it was announced that National Express planned to default on the franchise, having failed to renegotiate the contractual terms of operation, with National Express stating that as a parent Group it would not provide the further financial support necessary to ensure that the National Express East Coast subsidiary remained solvent. As a result, the Government stated it would establish a publicly owned company, which at a future date in an orderly handover, would take over the staff and assets necessary to run the franchise, and would continue all timetabled services. The government announced that this would be a short term measure, and the franchise would be put up for re-tender toward the end of 2010.

In prior negotiations, the Group had reportedly offered to pay "well over £100 million" in order to be released from its commitment to operate the franchise. Transport Secretary Lord Adonis had rejected this on a matter of principle. He stated: "The government is not prepared to renegotiate rail franchises, because I'm simply not prepared to bail out companies that are unable to meet their commitments". In defaulting on the franchise, under the franchising system, National Express Group only directly incurs losses of £72 million in bonds. It would also however, lose its pre-qualified status in the bidding for future franchises.

Additionally, the government stated it believed it had grounds to terminate National Express Group's other rail franchises, and would be exploring its options to do so. The franchise failure sparked public and industry calls for the permanent public ownership of the East Coast franchise, or even the complete scrapping of the entire franchise system. In response, Lord Adonis reiterated the findings of a 2008 National Audit Office report, which had concluded that the rail franchising system delivered good value for money and steadily improving services.

The failure of NXEC was only the second instance of a UK rail franchise being re-nationalised. This previous occurrence was also a temporary arrangement, when the government owned South Eastern Trains company, which took over the operations of Connex South Eastern in 2003, was replaced by the private operator, Southeastern.

Shortly before the loss of the franchise , National Express' rival FirstGroup had made a speculative takeover approach, however this was rejected. On announcing the defaulting on the franchise, it was also announced that the Group Chief Executive Richard Bowker had resigned, to take up a position as chief executive of Union Railway in the United Arab Emirates.

National Express East Coast will continue to operate services whilst it is able to do so. The Government named Elaine Holt as chief of the nationalised train company. She will take the position when National Express hands back the franchise officially. The Transport Secretary Lord Adonis also announced he expected the company to remain in public ownership for two years, rather than the 18 months that had previously been expected. The new company is called 'East Coast' and took over operations from 14 November 2009.

Service patterns

The lines used by the franchise were historically part of London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) company, before being nationalised into British Railways. The passenger services operated by the East Coast franchisee post 1996 have historically been a prestige part of the UK rail network, having once included the famous Flying Scotsman passenger train, and latterly being part of the nationalised British Rail InterCity network.

In off-peak times, there are three or four trains per hour to and from Kings Cross. The following details apply to weekday operations.

Principal routes


A half-hourly service between Kings Cross and Newcastle operated for most of the day, departing from London on the hour and on the half hour. The ‘top of the hour’ departures continued through to Edinburgh Waverley (with the 10:00 departure keeping the traditional name Flying Scotsman), with a two-hourly extension to Glasgow Centralmarker.These trains generally ran as limited-stop expresses between London and Newcastle, all trains called at York, and most at Peterborough and Darlington, though afternoon and evening departures from Kings Cross ran non-stop to Doncaster or York. The trains leaving Kings Cross on the half hour generally terminated at Newcastle and served Stevenage, Grantham, Newark, Retford, Doncaster and Durham as well as Peterborough, York, and Darlington.


The service between Kings Cross and Leeds was generally half-hourly, with all trains serving Wakefield Westgate, most trains serving Peterborough and Doncaster and some serving Stevenage, Grantham, Newark and Retford.

Other routes


There were 4 trains per day each way serving Aberdeen departing Leeds at 07:10 and Kings Cross at 10:30 (The Northern Lights), 14:00 and 16:00, the journey time from Kings Cross being just over seven hours. Three services departed Inverness for Kings Cross at 07:52, 09:52 (The Northern Lights) and 14:49, and a 18:16 service to Edinburgh. These services were operated by HST sets, as the line between Aberdeen and Edinburgh is not electrified.


A daily service operated between Inverness and Kings Cross called the Highland Chieftain. The journey takes just over eight hours, departing Inverness at 0755 and Kings Cross at 12:00. This service was operated with a HST, as the lines to Dunblane and Inverness are not electrified.


The Hull Executive ran between Hull and Kings Cross, with one train per day each way departing Hull at 07:00 with a 17:20 return. This service also used a HST as the Hull line is not electrified.


There was a 06:55 train from Skiptonmarker and Keighleymarker to King's Cross with a 18:03 return. As is the case with the Bradford service, this is an extension of a Leeds – London service. Though the line to Skipton is electrified throughout, the National Express East Coast service to/from the town was operated using a HST because the electrical infrastructure on the Leeds to Skipton line is insufficient to support a Class 91 locomotive and the class 333 EMUs (Electric Multiple Units) that operate the local services from Leeds to Skipton


There was a Monday-Saturday 07:28 HST departure from Harrogate to King's Cross. However, there was no return journey so passengers are required to change at Leeds or York on to Northern Rail services to Harrogate. The Saturday running of this service was the only National Express East Coast southbound service from Leeds not to call at Wakefield Westgate. This service departed from Leeds and heads along the Selby line to join the East Coast Main Line at Hambletonmarker.

Bradford Forster Square

There was a 06:30 service from Bradford Forster Square to King's Cross with a 17:33 return.

Named trains

NX East Coast operates the following named passenger trains in their timetable:

Rail based competitors

With the upgrade of the West Coast Main Linemarker between London Euston and Glasgow to 125 mph now complete, National Express East Coast can not compete with Virgin Trains on London-Glasgow journey times (still 5 hrs 45 mins compared to the new 4 hrs 10 min timings available on the WCML), but they do provide a useful link from Glasgow to Newcastle and York and a secondary route for use when the WCML is closed for engineering work. NXEC has however regained its monopoly over London-Edinburgh services since Virgin dropped their sole Euston-Edinburgh service in 2009.

The East Coast franchise has become the significant target of competition from the granting of licences to the first open-access operators, at Hull from First Hull Trains, and from York directly and the North East indirectly from Grand Central.

The First ScotRail London to Scotland Caledonian Sleeper offers an evening service alternative to the East Coast destinations of Aberdeen and Inverness (Highland Sleeper) and Edinburgh and Glasgow (Lowland Sleeper), although it runs from London Eustonmarker instead of Kings Cross.

Proposed routes


As part of the award of the franchise to in 2007, it was proposed a fifth service would operate out of Kings Cross each hour, operating to Lincoln and York on alternate hours from December 2010. It was proposed to lease 4 Class 90s and Mark 3 sets, for use on the Leeds and York services with HSTs being used on the Lincoln services. This was later shelved and 5 Class 180s were to be leased instead. It was anticipated that one early morning train would start from Cleethorpes, serving Grimsby Town and Market Rasen, with one evening service to Lincoln extended to Cleethorpes.


The most recent performance figures for the first quarter of 2009/10 put National Express at a Public performance Measure (percentage of trains arriving on time) of 90.4% for the East Coast route. The Moving Annual Average up to 30 June 2009 was 88.0%, slightly up on last year.

Rolling stock


The new franchise inherited the rolling stock operated by GNER, which encompasses Class 43 diesel locomotives and Mark 3 coaching stock (InterCity 125), and Class 91 electric locomotives and Mark 4 Mallard coaches (InterCity 225).

Mark 3 Coaching Stock were being refurbished by National Express to take them up to Mallard MK4 coaching stock standards.

National Express East Coast offered free Wi-Fi to passengers in both first and standard class.

 Trainset   Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Number   Routes operated 
 mph   km/h 
InterCity 125 Class 43 Diesel locomotive 125 200 30 London Kings Cross-Aberdeen

London Kings Cross-Inverness

London Kings Cross-Edinburgh

London Kings Cross-Hull

London Kings Cross-Skipton

London Kings Cross-Harrogate


London Kings Cross-Newcastle
Mark 3 coach Passenger car 125 200 117
InterCity 225 Class 91 Electric locomotive 140 225 31 London Kings Cross-Leeds

London Kings Cross-Edinburgh

London Kings Cross-Glasgow Central

London Kings Cross-Bradford Forster Square

London Kings Cross-Newcastle
Mark 4 coach Passenger car 140 225 302
Driving Van Trailer 140 225 31


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