IF Sir Richard Branson takes control of the East Coast train line his long term aim is to revive ambitious plans for a new high speed line.

Ministers have promised passengers more frequent and faster trains when the franchise is awarded for the East Coast Mainline later this year. Sir Richard wants North-East passengers to enjoy superfast services that match the flagship HS2 project.

Virgin Trains is part of a consortium bidding to run the route which links the North-East with London and Edinburgh.

The successful bidder will be announced in November with the new franchise beginning in March 2015 and running for at least eight years.

The tender document does not include plans for a new high speed line, prompting fears among some North-East businesses that the region risks being left in the slow lane when HS2 opens in 2026, and slashes journey times from Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds to the capital.

The Virgin boss, whose company operates services along the West Coast, said: “On the West Coast Virgin has doubled the number of passengers and transformed it from a dilapidated network to the best, and we think we can radically improve the East Coast Mainline.

“I think the vast majority of people who travel on the line say there is room for improvement.

“We once submitted to the government a plan for a high speed line up the east coast. It was rejected, not by this government, but back in Tony Blair’s day.

“We are having to follow the new rules we’ve been given to bid under. The train times will be speeded up. One day I think a high speed line up the east coast makes sense.

“ I once walked it and there were only three houses that would have to disappear to achieve it. It just seemed easiest things to do.”

The East Coast franchise has been run by the acclaimed publicly-owned Directly Operated Railways since previous operator National Express gave up the franchise in November 2009.