North East MP urges ministers to scrap East Coast Main Line plans

THE East Coast Main Line should stay in public hands, ministers have been told.

The East Coast Main Line
The East Coast Main Line

THE East Coast Main Line should stay in public hands, ministers have been told.

North East MP Andy McDonald urged the Government to scrap plans to find a private sector operator to run inter-city services on the line, which runs from London to Edinburgh via Darlington, Durham and Newcastle.

But speaking for the Government, Transport minister Simon Burns insisted the privatisation would go ahead as planned.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced in March that the Government was inviting bids for the franchise, which has been under the control of the Department for Transport since 2009 after previous operator National Express pulled out.

A new operator is expected to take over the service in February 2015.

But leading a Commons debate, Middlesbrough MP Mr McDonald said the existing system, in which the service is run by a company owned by the Department called Directly Operated Railways, had led to a better service for customers.

And he said keeping the franchise in public ownership meant the massive profits it generated could be ploughed back into the rail network.

The MP said: “The current debate is not about the free market verses a state monopoly. It is about whether a public asset, for which the taxpayer will remain liable, should be managed by the British Government, a foreign government, or one of just a handful of private companies large enough to be capable of meeting the bidding criteria.”

He added: “The question that I must ask the Government, and members who oppose keeping the line in the hands of those who have managed it so well, is whether there is any evidence that would get them to drop their prejudice that private is always better than public?”

Labour’s Shadow Rail Minister, Lilian Greenwood, said the entire rail network would benefit from having one franchise in public ownership, to compare the performance of privately-held franchises against.

She said: “The East Coast is working. We should not be undermining a successful service that’s delivered real benefits to passengers.”

And she urged the Government to “cancel this costly and unnecessary privatisation”.

But Mr Burns said the Directly Operated Railways was only ever bought in on a temporary basis as “a body of last resort”, and said Labour had previously backed a new franchise.

He said selling the franchise as planned “will deliver the best possible long term outcome for passengers and taxpayers”.

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