The re-privatisation of the East Coast rail franchise will be launched today - despite continued opposition from trade unions and Labour.
Details of the 11-year franchise will be advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union, the normal way in which public sector contracts are advertised.
Just last week, campaign group We Own It presented a petition of 25,000 signatures to the Department for Transport demanding the service remain in public control.
The East Coast Main Line has been run since 2009 by East Coast Main Line Company Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Directly Operated Railways Limited, a company owned by the Department for Transport.
The arrangements were put in place after private operator National Express East Coast defaulted on its contract and abandoned the line.
Ministers are now to invite private rail operators to submit bids for the right to take over the service from February 2015. Virgin Trains, which currently runs inter city services from London to Manchester on the West Coast Main Line, is expected to be among the bidders.
But critics of the franchising system say there is no need to change the current arrangements.
Labour argues it makes sense to retain the service in public control as a comparator, to test whether private operators provide a better service.
Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said last night: “David Cameron should tackle his Government’s cost of living crisis and cap rail fare rises for struggling commuters, instead of obsessing about handing East Coast over to the private sector. East Coast is working well and will have returned £800m to the taxpayer by the end of this financial year.”
Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT union said: “It is simply outrageous that the Government are firing the starting gun on the re-privatisation of the East Coast when every objective analysis shows that this is a successful and reliable service, contributing a billion pounds back to the Government while the private operators are milking huge profits and soaking up vast taxpayer subsidies.”
The Department for Transport confirmed the process of finding an operator to run the franchise would begin today, but no further details will be published before a statement is laid before Parliament.
In an interview with the Journal last week, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted private management would lead to a better service for passengers.
He said: “We’ve already had a number of companies that have said they are going to take an interest in providing that service. So I think it’s very good news for the service in the North East.”