Great North Eastern Railway

Great North Eastern Railway

Infobox Rail companies
image_filename=91118_%27Bradford_Film_Festival%27_at_Peterborough.jpg| widthpx=300px
franchise=InterCity East Coast
April 1996 – 2003
2003 - 2005
2005 – 9 December 2007 [cite web |url= | publisher=Department for Transport|title= InterCity East Coast Consultation Document|accessdate=2007-01-22 |format=PDF|pages = [ p. 7] ]
(originally 2015)
logo_filename=GNER logo red.pngabbr=GR
regions=East Midlands, Yorkshire,
North East England, Central Scotland, Northern Scotland
fleet=31 Class 91 electric locomotives
30 InterCity 225 sets
11 InterCity 125 (HST) sets
parent_company=Sea Containers Ltd

Great North Eastern Railway (GNER) was a British train operating company, owned by Sea Containers Ltd. It operated high-speed express train services on the East Coast Main Line from 1996 until the takeover in 2007 of the franchise by National Express East Coast on 9 December 2007.

Most of its trains ran between London King's Cross and either Edinburgh Waverley or Leeds.

From Edinburgh Waverley, selected services continued on to Motherwell & Glasgow, Inverness, or Dundee & Aberdeen. From Leeds, some trains ran to and from Bradford, Skipton, and Harrogate.

One service per day also ran to and from Hull via Selby. Other towns and cities served by GNER trains included Stevenage, Peterborough, Grantham, Newark, Retford, Doncaster, York, Northallerton, Darlington, Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Morpeth, Alnmouth for Alnwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Dunbar, Wakefield, Perth, Kirkcaldy, Leuchars for St Andrews, Arbroath, and Montrose.

GNER locomotives were serviced at Bounds Green TMD in London; and at Craigentinny in Edinburgh.


GNER was originally awarded a seven-year franchise in April 1996 to run what had been the InterCity East Coast division of British Rail. The company was later granted with a two-year extension allowing them to operate trains until 2005. When this franchise expired, they won a renewal until 2015, overcoming rival bids from "Danish State Railways", "First London, Scottish and North East Railway", and "inter city-railways" (a consortium of Deutsche Bahn, Stagecoach Group, and Virgin Group). For this new franchise, GNER’s annual payment to the government was increased to £130 million, quadruple the previous amount. As a result, the company said that it was likely to raise fares and make job cuts. [cite news|first=Ben|last=Webster|title=GNER deal puts the squeeze on passengers|url=,,9077-1537508,00.html|date=2005-05-23|publisher=The Times]

The initials ‘GNER’ were similar to LNER, the company that operated the route before being nationalised as part of British Railways in 1948. Additionally, two of the LNER’s predecessor companies were the GNR, who built Kings Cross station, and the GER. GNER made further links to their past by adopting a dark blue livery with red trimming lines for their trains, similar to that used by the GER, and using a Victorian coat of arms-style crest on their trains.

GNER was the second-to-last British train company to allow smoking in designated areas on their trains, but banned it completely on 29 August 2005. First ScotRail at that time still allowed limited smoking on their Caledonian Sleeper services, although it was subsequently banned in October 2005 in advance of the 26 March 2006 deadline, when a smoking ban in public places came into force under Scottish law.

In 2005, GNER and Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation made an unsuccessful joint bid, under the name Great South Eastern Railway, for the Integrated Kent Franchise now held by Govia, who operate it as Southeastern.

GNER had two major accidents during their operating years, these were: The Hatfield crash on the 17 October 2000 when the 12:10 London Kings Cross - Leeds Train derailed just south of Hatfield station due to a hairline crack in the rail. The death toll of the accident was quite low due to the only fatalities being in the restaurant car which struck an overhead catenary stanchion during the derailment. GNER's only other accident was the Selby rail disaster on the morning of the 28 February 2001, where a Newcastle Central - London Kings Cross service hit a Land-Rover that had driven off the M62 on to the ECML, the GNER service derailed and was subsequently hit by the Freightliner service from Immingham - Ferrybridge resulting in the death of 10 people.

Under the name Great South Western Railway, GNER and MTR had pre-qualified to bid for the new South Western franchise, which began on the 4 February 2007 and combined services formerly operated by South West Trains and Island Line. Stagecoach won the franchise again, meaning that Sea Containers' railway operations in the UK were limited to GNER.

On 15 December 2006, the Department for Transport announced that it was to terminate GNER's franchise to operate the East Coast Main Line. The franchise contract was established in 2005 and was originally intended to last for 10 years. The reconsideration was due in part at least to lower than expected revenue figures by GNER; in October 2006, Sea Containers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Virgin Trains/Stagecoach Group, FirstGroup plc and National Express Group all submitted bids for the franchise. On 14 August 2007 it was announced that the National Express Group had been awarded the franchise, operating under the name of National Express East Coast. [cite news| url=|publisher=BBC News Online|title=National Express wins rail route|date=2007-08-14] GNER continued operating the line until the new franchise started on 9 December 2007. [cite news|first=Robin|last=Pagnameta|url=,,9077-2505706,00.html|title=GNER to lose £1.3bn East Coast railway franchise|date=2006-12-15|accessdate=2006-12-15|publisher=The Times]

At the very end of its operation, GNER sold tickets allowing travel between any two points on its network for £5. [ [ TheRailwayCentre.Com ] ]

The last Northbound train ever to be operated by GNER was the 2030 Kings Cross - Newcastle on Saturday 8 December 2007. GNER gave out Chocolate Coins with the crest and the wording "Thank you for your custom with GNER".

Financial and operational concerns

In May 2006, it was revealed that GNER's parent company Sea Containers was in financial difficulties, and was rumoured to be bordering on insolvency. Subsequent to this, questions were raised as to whether GNER could continue operating should its parent company cease trading. The company rejected this assertion, stating that its lines of credit and financial activities were "ring-fenced" away from Sea Containers, and therefore a cessation of services for this reason was impossible. It did not however stop a furore of speculation from rival TOCs (principally Virgin Trains and First Group) that they would be keen to rebid for the ECML franchise if it were put back out to tender. In July 2006, rumours then began circulating that Sea Containers would be prepared to sell GNER in an effort to stave off resorting to Chapter 11 proceedings to secure itself from its creditors. [cite news|first=Alastair|last=Dalton|title=Sea Containers 'ready to sell GNER' to avoid bankruptcy|url=|date=2006 July 17|publisher=The Scotsman]

On 27 July, 2006 the High Court rejected GNER's judicial review over the Office of Rail Regulation's decision to allow Grand Central Railway to operate trains along part of the East Coast Main Line. [cite news|first=Katie|last=Allen|title=GNER fails to block rival's east coast line service|url=,,1831983,00.html|date=2006 July 28|publisher=The Guardian] GNER had made its application partly on the basis that 'open access' train operators (like Hull Trains) are not required to meet the same fixed costs for accessing Network Rail's infrastructure as those train operating companies running services under a contract or 'franchise' with the UK Department for Transport. GNER's case failed principally because the High Court determined that not only did European law permit the Rail Regulator to establish a charging regime for open access operators which was different from the one which applies to franchised operators (such as GNER) - in this case not imposing a fixed charge on open access operators - but that if he had not done so, he would have been acting illegally because of the very different conditions under which open access operators and franchised operators get access to the network. The High Court (Mr Justice Sullivan) refused GNER permission to appeal, and GNER decided not to ask the Court of Appeal to take the case.

On 25 July, 2006, two days before the public judgment in the above action, GNER announced that Christopher Garnett, the company's chief executive officer, was to step down, having occupied that position since Sea Containers, GNER's parent company, won the first InterCity East Coast franchise (see above). Amid growing industry speculation that Sea Containers was working towards a "financial restructuring", that company's President and Chief Executive Bob MacKenzie was named as Garnett's successor. [cite news|first=Mark|last=Milner|title=GNER chief to stand down|url=,,1829962,00.html|date=2006 July 25|publisher=The Guardian]

The problems were further fuelled by GNER's poor profitability, which had been linked to the company's overbidding for the ECML franchise coupled to what proved to be crippling subsidy repayments to the Government (see above). The company blamed the effects of the 7/7 terrorist attacks, increased electricity prices and increased competition from low cost airlines for the decline in passenger numbers. It also faced a growing challenge from the revitalised West Coast services operated by Virgin. The company attempted to address the problem by waiving booking fees on internet sales, cutting staff numbers and raising fares and car parking charges where the market could bear it. In a press interview in September 2006, GNER's ex chief Christopher Garnett hinted at a bleak future for GNER and the franchising system - claiming that the trend among TOCs to overbid for the renewal of franchises would result in a financially unsustainable railway. [cite news|first=Dan|last=Milmo|title=Ex-GNER chief says high bids threaten franchises|url=,,1881650,00.html|date=2006 September 27|publisher=The Guardian]

On 16 October, Sea Containers confirmed that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, therefore allowing it to continue trading should insolvency occur. Two days later, Sea Containers' chief Bob MacKenzie threatened that the company would withdraw from the GNER franchise by May 2007 if the Government did not renegotiate the franchise terms.

On 27 November, 2006 the Department of Transport announced that it would withdraw the franchise from GNER, largely on the basis of Sea Containers' financial difficulties and its uncertain future. However, the company was allowed to continue running the ECML franchise on a fixed management contract basis for up to 24 months, until a new operator was found.

Bids for the InterCity East Coast franchise were submitted to the Department for Transport (DfT) on the 15 January 2007 with details of the bids made public on 20 February 2007. Neither GNER nor its parent company made the shortlist of potential operators for the InterCity East Coast franchise. GNER declined to comment on whether it made a bid submission to the Department for Transport. Only Arriva Trains, First Group, National Express Group and inter city - railways Limited (Virgin Trains/Stagecoach Group) were shortlisted to replace the incumbent operator. [cite news|title=Four in East Coast rail shortlist|url=|date=2007 February 20|publisher=BBC News Online] In April 2007, it was announced that GNER had a 10% stake in the bid placed by Virgin and Stagecoach. [cite news|url=|title=GNER in joint bid for top route|date=2007 April 6|publisher=BBC News Online] On 14th August it was announced by the DfT that the East Coast Mainline franchise was awarded to NXEC Trains Ltd, a subsidiary of National Express Group. From December 10th 2007 all services were branded as National Express East Coast. [cite web |url=|publisher=Department for Transport|title=National Express awarded contract for growth on InterCity East Coast|accessdate=2007-08-14|date=2007 August 14]

ervice patterns

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

Journey times on many services operated by GNER actually increased since the days of British Rail. The fastest London to Edinburgh journey time offered by the state corporation was 3 hours 59 minutes, whereas the fastest GNER service (with the same rolling stock) took 4 hours 10 minutes (the 15:00 London Kings Cross to Edinburgh).

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 (with the 10:00 keeping the traditional name "Flying Scotsman"), with some running on to either Glasgow Central, Aberdeen or Inverness.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 and/or York. The trains leaving Kings Cross on the half hour generally terminated at Newcastle and served other intermediate stations such as 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 trains serving most main intermediate stations. With the completion of the Allington Chord, near Grantham, having increased track capacity, GNER began to operate a full half-hourly service throughout the day on this route.


GNER operated ten trains per day between Kings Cross and Glasgow. With the upgrade of the West Coast Main Line between London Euston and Glasgow to 125mph completed, GNER could no longer compete with Virgin Trains on this route in terms of journey times (5hrs 30mins compared to the new 4hrs 25min time on the WCML), but they did provide a link from Glasgow to Newcastle and York and a secondary route for use when the WCML was closed for engineering work.

tations served less frequently


There were three trains per day each way between Kings Cross and Aberdeen, the journey time being just over seven hours. There was also one service per day arriving at Aberdeen from Leeds. These services were operated by HST sets, as the line between Edinburgh and Aberdeen is not electrified.


A daily service operated between Kings Cross and Inverness, called the "Highland Chieftain", a journey taking just over eight hours. This route was operated with diesel HSTs, as the line north of Edinburgh is not electrified.


GNER continued to run the "Hull Executive" between Hull and Kings Cross, with one morning journey to London and one evening journey to Hull. Since the branch to Hull is not electrified, this route too was operated using diesel HST sets.


There were two trains per day between Kings Cross and Bradford Forster Square. These were extensions of the Kings Cross–Leeds services and usually utilised the ‘Mallard’ electric sets.


There was a morning train from Skipton and Keighley to Kings Cross with an early evening return. As is the case with the Bradford trains, this was an extension to the Leeds–London service. Though the line to Skipton is electrified throughout, the GNER service to/from the town operated using a diesel HST because the electrical infrastructure on the Leeds to Skipton line is insufficient to support GNER's trains.


There was a Monday-Saturday morning HST departure from Harrogate to Kings Cross. However, there was no return journey so passengers were required to change at Leeds or York on to Northern Rail services to Harrogate.

The Saturday running of this service was the week's only GNER southbound service from Leeds not to call at Wakefield Westgate. This service departed from Leeds and headed along the Selby line to join the East Coast Main Line at Hambleton.


As a long-distance operator, punctuality was always a weakness of GNER, and the last figures to be published by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) for GNER reflect this. Based on the Public Performance Measure (PPM), their punctuality for the third quarter of the financial year of 2007/8 up to 8 December was 85.7% , up slightly on the same quarter of the previous year. [cite web|url=|title=National Rail Trends October 07 - December 07|publisher=Office of Rail Regulation|format=PDF] The MAA up to 8 December 2007 was 82.1%. This is approximately equal to the sector level for long distance operators, and approximately 1% behind rival Anglo-Scottish train operator Virgin Trains, over the same quarterly period.

Rolling stock

Unlike most other UK train companies, GNER continued to use only vehicles which were designed and built (or, in a small number of cases, specified) by the former state corporation British Rail - most of the rolling stock was built as long ago as the late 1970s (HSTs) or the early 1990s (225s). GNER’s primary rolling stock were InterCity 225 electric trainsets, each comprising a Class 91 electric locomotive, nine Mark 4 coaches, and a Mark 4 driving van trailer. These sets were refurbished by Bombardier Transportation in 2003–2006 and are known as ‘Mallard’ in honour of the record-setting "Mallard" steam locomotive. They boasted re-designed interiors and new features such as ‘Wi-Fi’ wireless Internet services and electrical sockets at every seat pair.

For routes where the infrastructure for electric trains is absent or inadequate, or to cover for shortages of electric sets, they also used the older diesel-electric InterCity 125 High Speed Train sets, which use two Class 43 locomotives with either eight or nine slam-door Mark 3 coaches. As one of their commitments for the new franchise, GNER agreed to upgrade these trains to the same standards as the Mallard project. [cite web|url=|title=Biggest Deal in European Rail History Marks East Coast Franchise Announcement|date=2005-03-22|publisher=Strategic Rail Authority dead link|url=|date=September 2007] These were released on the 27th of February 2007 with a poem by the poet Ian McMillan called "The High Speed Train". [cite web|url=|title=Ian McMillan - The High Speed Train|publisher=Ian McMillan]

The 225 ‘Mallard’ electric sets were all allocated to Bounds Green depot in north London, whilst the diesel HST fleet was allocated to Craigentinny in Edinburgh. The depots at Neville Hill in Leeds and Heaton in Newcastle carried out light maintenance and stabling.

Until December 2005, this fleet was supplemented by five (three of which were used per day) Class 373 high-speed trains leased from Eurostar, which were used on the "White Rose" service between London and Leeds. Three of these had been adapted to GNER’s livery through the use of vinyl ‘wraps’, while the others retained their Eurostar colours. These trains have since been withdrawn and returned to Eurostar. These services were restricted to only 110mph due to pantograph problems (Class 373 page).

GNER purchased and for some years used the unique Class 89 Co-Co prototype electric locomotive 89001 "Avocet" that had previously been briefly used by BR (in the end, the simpler Class 90 was adopted as a successor to classes 81-87). 89001 served mostly on the Leeds route until it failed in 2001.


Earlier Fleet

The end of the line

The last service operated by GNER, on Saturday December 8 2007, was the 20:30 service from London King's Cross to Newcastle. It departed London on time and arrived in Newcastle 14 minutes late.fact|date=August 2008

ee also

*East Coast Main Line
*National Express East Coast
*National Rail


s-ttl|title=Operator of InterCity East Coast franchise
years=1996 — 2007

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