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Confusion over rail line future.

CONFUSION today surrounds the future of the East Coast Mainline after a minister admitted troubled operator National Express could continue running services.

Junior Transport Minister Chris Mole said yesterday it was "theoretically" possible National Express could keep the prestigious franchise.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis announced on July 1 the line would be nationalised before being relet within 18 months because the firm had hit financial difficulties.

the Government after winning the contract, based on strong revenue growth, but has been affected by the recession.

Mr Mole's admission comes after National Express boss Ray O'Toole insisted there was a possibility of the company continuing services next year if the economy recovered.

Tickets sales over the summer months will decide when the current franchise is torn up - which would come after the previous operator GNER proved unable to run trains in 2006.

Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick, warned against rushing into another franchise, adding: "We want some consistency and confidence in the operation of this vital service."

The Liberal Democrat demanded an end to installing ticket barriers at stations like Newcastle and an "odious" seat reservation charge introduced by National Express.

Mr Mole added the Government had delivered "substantial and sustained" rail investment, with performance improving since National Express took over.

National Express said it unsuccessfully tried to reach a settlement with the DfT, and a spokesman added: "We continue to meet and exceed our franchise commitments and have made significant improvements."

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NATIONALISED: Lord Adonis
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 15, 2009
Words:246
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