JOURNEY times between Leeds and London are to be slashed by 14 minutes to two hours as Sir Richard Branson promised to “revolutionise” rail travel between Yorkshire and the capital.
A consortium of Virgin Trains and Stagecoach will run the prestigious London to Scotland line when it is re-privatised in March.
Proposals from 2019 include more trains to London from Bradford, Leeds, York and Harrogate and a £140m investment over eight years to improve trains and stations.
Journey times from London to Leeds will be cut in 2019 to two hours and there will be new direct services from Huddersfield, via Dewsbury.
The deal with see an additional train every two hours operating from Leeds from May 2019 and an extra six trains a day between both London and Harrogate, via Horsforth, and London and Bradford Forster Square, via Shipley.
There are plans for a new ticket office at Wakefield Westgate and the first class lounge at Wakefield will be opened for community use during the evenings.
Sir Richard, whose company already runs the West Coast line with Stagecoach, said that partnership had “revolutionised” train travel.
“Our long and fruitful partnership with Stagecoach has revolutionised the West Coast line and train travel in the UK, and we are looking forward to bringing the lessons we have learnt across to the East Coast and building on the success there.
“We are excited to work with East Coast’s great group of talented people, who we know will bring to life that famous and much-loved Virgin spirit under the new franchise.”
Rail minister Claire Perry, on a visit to Leeds, said the franchise would see a 10 per cent cut from May in walk-up on-the-day fares.
She said “lessons have been learned” from previous East Coast private sector failures, although there could “no guarantees”.
“I am convinced we have got a very strong deal, with two British companies behind us.”
Michael Dugher, shadow transport secretary and Barnsley East MP, said: “The taxpayer and the travelling public have been sold down the river. This whole franchise process shouldn’t have happened.”