East Coast mainline re-nationalised after privateers collapse
The East Coast mainline franchise has been brought back into public ownership after the collective failure of Stagecoach and Virgin Railway, but transport secretary Chris Grayling has left open future bidding by the disastrous operators.
Chris Grayling told parliament that "I plan to use a period of Operator of Last Resort control to shape the new partnership”, and that the line would be renamed the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER). This is the third time in the last decade that private rail franchises have collapsed on the East Coast railway, and each time the railway has been put back out to tender.
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald made it clear that he opposed re-opening the franchise up to private bidders:
“Three private companies failed on the East Coast route in 10 years. Its only successful period was under public ownership before it was cynically re-privatised by the Tories, resulting in a £2billion taxpayer bailout. They are defending a broken system at the passengers expense.”
Labour, who pledged to nationalise every railway franchise in the country in 2017, asked why this should be limited only to East Coast, when services have been deteriorating across the board, and the country backs public ownership by almost four to one.
The general secretary of the transport union TSSA Manuel Cortes welcomed the re-nationalisation but was scathing of Grayling’s conduct:
"Our union warned again and again that privatising East Coast would only serve as a licence to transfer still more public money into the private bank accounts of multi billionaire rail-robber barons. We were right, Stagecoach's Brian Souter and Virgin's Richard Branson's have shared in the booty they've been licensed by the Tories to loot from Treasury coffers.
"Together they've let a state-owned profit-making asset in 2015 bloat their own bank balances whilst turning it into a complete state liability. Ronnie Biggs would take his hat off to them! Between London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness, poor passengers have put up with rising ticket prices in exchange for rapidly deteriorating services, enduring increasingly delayed train times, dreadful overcrowding and all too often, no seat at all. Our members have been driven to distraction with the ever-growing daily number of poor, frustrated passengers who need more support.
"Putting East Coast out to private pasture was always a national scandal. The robber barons have fleeced passengers and taxpayers but even today the Tories are letting their billionaire friends off the hook once again. Stagecoach and Virgin must be hounded out of our railways. Grayling's head should roll for his very public love-in with the rail barons that has brought East Coast to its knees.”