Kevin Rowan column

I was pleased last week to be part of a panel questioning the four organisations hoping to run the Intercity East Coast Franchise following the cancellation of the contract with GNER.

I was pleased last week to be part of a panel questioning the four organisations hoping to run the Intercity East Coast Franchise following the cancellation of the contract with GNER.

The event, which follows on from sessions organised by the North- East Assembly, was largely the initiative of Tyne Bridge MP Dave Clelland and he should be congratulated for it.

This line services at least five million passengers each year, around 60,000 seats per day between the north and London; it is `arterial' in its importance.

I find the GNER service pretty good. The trains are punctual and clean, the onboard services are good, from the catering to the wifi access, and the staff are great; informed, helpful and friendly.

GNER's investment in staff has been a model to others, they even appeared in a TUC DVD promoting the role of union learning reps!

So there is a lot for bidders to live up to. The Transport Secretary will be receiving much advice on which bidder to award the new franchise to, some of the key points he (or maybe she, by then) were discussed at the panel meeting last week.

The speed and frequency of the service is important in ensuring that the North-East has a regular link with London.

We need to be seen as part of the booming economy, not a remote outpost from it. Our stations are in need of considerable investment too.

While the Newcastle Central, Durham and Darlington stations are lovely looking listed buildings, they are a long way short of their potential and for visitors coming to the region it is the first thing they see when they disembark.

As the old saying goes, `you only get one chance to make a first impression'.

The TUC and trade unions have a significant interest in the approach to the staff working in the East Coast Main Line Service. They have been a key to ensuring the quality of the travel experience of the five million-plus passengers.

At a little over 800 employees in the North-East they are also a significant part of the regional economy.

GNER invested heavily in developing and training staff and while the staff might not always hear it, the service they provide is appreciated and valued.

There is much success to build on for whoever runs the line.

A good starting point might be to remember another adage - that staff are any business' best asset.

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