THE dream of faster and more comfortable trains to London will be put on hold until 2006.

GNER chief executive Christopher Garnett has revealed no new trains will be introduced on the East Coast Main Line until 2006 because the company was only granted a two-year extension on the franchise.

Mr Garnett told a House of Commons Select Committee the company was unable to purchase any new rolling stock because of the botched franchising process.

He also revealed the cost to GNER of competing with Virgin for the right for a 20-year franchise on the line was up to £4m, none of which it will get back.

Mr Garnett said the cost in terms of disruption to company business was "much higher".

Transport Minister Stephen Byers had promised the Government would be able to underwrite the cost of purchasing rolling stock to allow GNER to get the new trains straight away but Mr Garnett said the Secretary of State had been "misinformed" - he pointed out train suppliers only get paid when a train goes into service, not when it is ordered. The Italian manufacturers will not provide trains to GNER because they do not know if the company will be the one to put the train into use.

He told the Select Committee: "We cannot go out and order new rolling stock for the East Coast Main Line on a two-year franchise."

After the hearing he told the Evening Press it would be 2006 before new rolling stock was introduced on the line.

York MP Hugh Bayley today said: "The long-term future of the East Coast Main Line needs to be sorted out as soon as possible.

"GNER did not get the long franchise it needed because Railtrack could not commit itself to the upgrade of the line.

"Now Railtrack has been replaced, we need that commitment to be made quickly so that new rolling stock which is compatible with the new track can be introduced."

Updated: 10:58 Thursday, November 01, 2001