A bid by cross-channel rail company Eurostar to run the East Coast main line has been branded a “disgrace” by a North East Labour MP.
Blaydon MP Dave Anderson has criticised the Channel Tunnel company’s plans to launch a joint bid with French company Keolis to operate the London to Scotland rail route.
East Coast has been run by the Government since 2009 after two franchises held by private companies ended in failure.
The Government wants to return the line to private operators, however, with a successful bidder expected to be announced in October 2014 and the new franchise starting in February 2015.
Labour and trades unions have vehemently opposed returning the line to private control, arguing that it provides value for taxpayers.
Yesterday Mr Anderson said: “A foreign company running a British public service is an absolute disgrace. East Coast is at last making money and this Government should be re-investing these surpluses in making Britain a better place.
“Instead, it is continuing the work that Margaret Thatcher started and this is absolutely wrong.”
A recent opinion poll for the campaign organisation We Own It showed that only 21% of voters want to see the East Coast line returned to private hands, with 58% preferring it to remain publicly owned.
Beth Farhat, regional secretary of the Northern TUC, says the coalition said: “Potential investors can clearly see that East Coast is a profitable line. It’s been successfully run in the public ownership for several years following past private sector failures and is on track to make £800m for the treasury this year alone.
“A publicly-owned railway would mean these surpluses could be invested in lowering fares, putting passengers and taxpayers first, rather than paying handsome dividends to shareholders.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef says passengers, staff, and the taxpayer are all set to lose out.
He said: “National Express, when it handed back the keys, left the East Coast route in chaos. It has been run with spectacular success in the public sector ever since.
“The East Coast line delivers a better deal to the public purse, to each and every taxpayer in Britain, than any other railway line. It is a key tool against which we can measure the success or failure of the privatised train operating companies.”
Keolis, which is majority-owned by French rail company SNCF, already operates four UK franchises, including the TransPennine Express, which runs some services in the North East.
Eurostar chief executive Nicolas Petrovic said: “By joining forces with Keolis, we bring a unique blend of expertise and innovation with a fresh perspective.
“The East Coast franchise is a vital economic artery and a key route for both business and leisure passengers which represents an exciting opportunity for future growth and investment.”
Meanwhile, the region’s biggest business membership organisation says it is prepared to welcome the move if improvements to the route are made.
North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) infrastructure policy specialist, Mark Stephenson said: “The East Coast line is one of the region’s most important links with the capital and Scotland and plays a vital role in North East connectivity. It is vital that whoever ends up winning the contract recognises the importance of the route and is prepared to invest in the necessary upgrades.”