The Inter City Railways (ICR) joint venture of Stagecoach (90%) and Virgin (10%) was awarded an eight-year contract to operate the Inter-City East Coast (ICEC) franchise by the Department for Transport DfT last November.

Virgin branding has been applied to the existing fleet of HST diesel trains and Intercity 225 electric sets inherited from the previous East Coast franchise, which has been operated by government-owned Directly Operated Railways (DOR) since National Express (NXEC) surrendered its contract to run the route in November 2009. However, most of these trains will be replaced by a fleet of 65 Hitachi Super Express Trains (SETs)being supplied by the Agility Trains consortium, which will enter service from 2018 onwards.

An improved timetable will be introduced in May 2019 and with the completion of SET deliveries in 2020 fleet capacity will be increased by 50% to 12,200 seats, providing 3100 additional seats on morning peak services.

With the introduction of new rolling stock and infrastructure enhancements, London – Leeds journey times will be cut from 2h 11min to 1h 57min, while the London – Edinburgh trip will be reduced by 13 minutes to 4h 8min.

The franchise will include new direct services from London to Huddersfield via Dewsbury and Middlesbrough via Thornaby. There will also be direct two-hourly services from London to Bradford, Harrogate, and Lincoln and additional London – Sunderland and London – Stirling services will be launched in December 2015. A half-hourly service will operate for most of the day between London and Edinburgh from May 2016.