East Coast Main Line rail franchise privatisation plans announced

Ministers have ignored warnings and announced plans to privatise the East Coast Main Line within two years

A train arriving at Newcastle Central Station
A train arriving at Newcastle Central Station

Ministers have ignored warnings and announced plans to privatise the East Coast Main Line within two years.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced the start of a bidding competition for the East Coast franchise with an expected start of service by the new operator in February 2015.

His announcement came despite many predicting further instability to the region if the successful line is once again mishandled.

In its last two turns in private sector hands, the now profitable line has had to be rescued after both GNER and National Express proved unable to meet payment commitments.

Potential bidders for the next round include Virgin Money boss Sir Richard Branson, who last month told The Journal he “would love to get my hands on the East Coast Main Line”.

Labour said that the East Coast operator has returned £640m to the taxpayer and invested more than £40m in improvements to the service.

And in an open letter to potential bidders, Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes said that too often passengers on the East Coast Main Line have paid the price for government mismanagement and private sector failings.

Mr Forbes said: “In moving forward with a search for a new bidder, I expect the Government to set the highest possible standards. Our local economy needs a regular, value-for-money, fast and reliable service from Newcastle to London, Scotland and other destinations.

“We need investment to remove pinch-points on the line, facilitate freight movements to support trade and the development of our ports, and eliminate the frustrations of delays and cancellations, particularly in bad weather.”

The decision to sell off the line was yesterday criticised by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, vice-chair of the all parliamentary rail in the North group, who accused the Government of letting politics get in the way of common sense.

He said: “Only today we learnt just how much the nationalised railway is contributing to public funds, it brings in £640m. What sort of Secretary of State would risk that sort of profit, and public satisfaction, and a good travel record just for a short term gain in the sale?”

Defending the move, Mr McLoughlin said: “In future franchise competitions we are placing passengers in the driving seat by ensuring that their views and satisfaction levels are taken into account when deciding which companies run our railway services. Franchising has been a force for good in the story of Britain’s railways, transforming an industry that was in decline into one that today carries record numbers of passengers.”

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