RAILWAY operator GNER looked last night to have won the battle for control of the East Coast Main Line.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) is understood to have recommended GNER as the preferred bidder for the contract to run services on the line for ten years.

GNER is believed to have won the bidding battle by pledging to pay more than £1bn to the Government over the lifetime of the franchise.

Although the SRA report was lodged with the Department of Transport last Friday, an announcement is not expected for two weeks.

If GNER wins, it will be the first time that an incumbent operator has secured a franchise in the teeth of fierce open competition.

Sources close to the SRA indicated that the GNER offer of £100m a year was far greater than its nearest rival.

The money represents a big increase on the £25m a year GNER currently pays and has led to fears that such a heavy cash drain may prevent the company improving services.

Of the other bidders, First Group and its Danish partner is understood to have offered £65m a year. The partners wanted to use Japanese-style bullet trains on the route between Newcastle and London.