National Express linked to East Coast success

Shares in National Express rallied today amid excitement that it was about to become the new operator of the UK East Coast Main Line (ECML).

Shares in National Express rallied today amid excitement that it was about to become the new operator of the UK East Coast Main Line (ECML).

The transport group is reportedly favourite for the franchise, ahead of rival bids from Arriva, Virgin/Stagecoach and First Group.

The success would help the company overcome the disappointment of the loss of its East Midlands rail franchise, which encompasses the company’s existing services of Midland Mainline and Central Trains, to rival Stagecoach earlier this year.

It would also be a boost for National Express’s chief executive, Richard Bowker, the former head of the now-defunct Strategic Rail Authority who joined as chief executive last year.

Shares were up by more than 8% following the weekend press reports.

National Express, which also operates the c2c and One Railway, declined to comment ahead of an announcement from the Department for Transport (DfT), which is set to confirm the winner of the franchise tomorrow.

The winner of the ECML franchise, the high-speed line linking London and Edinburgh, would take over from current operator GNER at the end of this year.

The DfT retendered the deal after GNER’s parent company Sea Containers filed for bankruptcy protection in the US last year.

GNER won the deal in 2005, with a bid which would have seen it pay more than £1.3bn (€1.9bn) to the Government over 10 years, but its revenues from the line failed to match expectations.

A National Express victory would also be a blow for Branson, whose Virgin Trains company also holds the West Coast franchise.

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