British train operating company London North Eastern Railway (LNER) is set to operate the InterCity East Coast (ICEC) services for a further three-year period.

The Department for Transport (DfT) awarded the state-owned operator a direct award contract to operate the intercity rail services from London King’s Cross to the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland, for three additional years.

The contract also includes an extension option of up to two further years (26 rail periods).

The direct award will allow LNER to implement planned improvements on the line, which includes the introduction of Azuma trains and increasing the frequency of services.

LNER is owned and overseen by the DfT Public Sector Operator, DfT OLR Holdings.

Last month, LNER announced its plan to work with five global start-ups to expedite new projects in a bid to improve rail travel in the UK. The move was part of LNER’s innovation programme, LNER FutureLabs.

Separately, the UK Government has announced that it will invest £15m to improve rail journeys to the North East.

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The funding will be invested in three rail stations. The Horden Station in Durham received £4.4m, while stations in Darlington and Middlesbrough were allocated £8.7m and £2.45m respectively.

UK Transport Secretary and Northern Powerhouse Minister Grant Shapps said: “Our ambitious plans to restore and revitalise the railways of the North East sits at the heart of our commitment to level up infrastructure across the country, build a railway that works for everyone and kickstart our economy as we begin the recovery from Covid-19.

“I’ve seen first hand how the new Horden Station will improve connectivity for thousands of people, easing congestion in Durham and enabling quick, convenient travel between Newcastle and Middlesbrough.

“By backing proposals to improve both Darlington and Middlesbrough stations, we will work to invigorate rail connections and deliver more modern, reliable services for passengers and businesses now and in the future.”