Passengers have been urged to back the fight against the privatisation of East Coast trains.
Labour MPs were out in force at stations across the region yesterday morning to warn that a line which is set to make the Treasury £800m this year could be sold off for politically-motivated reasons rather than public interest.
The Government says it intends to once again franchise the East Coast Main Line despite growing pressure to keep the asset in state hands.
As Labour took to stations in Newcastle, Durham and Darlington yesterday, former transport secretary Lord Adonis said he had changed his mind and now saw the merits of keeping the service nationalised.
In Newcastle, Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who sits on the all-parliamentary rail in the North group, said it would be a mistake to sell off the line.
He said: “It is a success story that will return £800m to the Government this year, but if it was sold off any surplus would have to go shareholders rather than the line.
“And those shareholders are likely to be foreign Governments whose nationalised rail industries already hold substantial stakes in UK rail firms. We can see now that actually the Conservatives are in favour state ownership, just not UK state ownership.”
Mr Mearns was joined by MPs Catherine McKinnell, Mary Glindon, Chi Onwurah, Emma Lewell-Buck, Dave Anderson and Stephen Hepburn at the Newcastle protest.
In Durham, MPs Pat Glass, Roberta Blackman-Woods and Grahame Morris helped push the message.
Durham North West MP Mrs Glass said: “The East Coast train line is the premier train line in the county. This is the third time that the franchise has been offered for tender, but it has failed in private ownership twice before.
“It has proven to be very successful as a publicly-owned company, getting less than 1% of Government subsidy compared to other private rail companies who get up to 33% subsidy, and it is number one for punctuality. It has the highest customer satisfaction of any rail company ever, it has invested £46m in the service over three years and has returned £800m to the public purse over the same period.
“Under the Government’s proposals, this money would be paid to shareholders, paid out in bonuses or spent on fat-cat salaries. We need to keep East Coast in public ownership.”
Junior transport minister Simon Burns has told MPs the sale is the best way to get long-term investment into the line. The Conservative said: “The nature of Directly Operated Railways, as an interim measure and operator of last resort, means it would not be right or practicable for it to plan beyond the short term.
“In order to provide the stability and innovation that is needed for any business, in particular a rail franchise that serves the public, it is necessary to be able to plan well into the future and make investment decisions that have a horizon beyond the short term.
“To meet this need, the inter-city East Coast franchise must be transferred back to the private sector.”