Rail workers protest over plans to privatise East Coast main line

Rail workers protested in Newcastle yesterday against plans to bring the East Coast main line back into private hands

Protesters outside the Centre for Life, where bidders Eurostar/Keolis were meeting, call for the East Coast Line to remain public
Protesters outside the Centre for Life, where bidders Eurostar/Keolis were meeting, call for the East Coast Line to remain public

Rail workers protested in Newcastle yesterday against plans to bring the East Coast main line back into private hands.

Around 60 people from various unions including the RMT gathered outside the Centre For Life as the Government prepares to reprivatise the successful public line.

Bidders Keolis and Eurostar met local MPs and union heads to hear their concerns - but RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash dismissed it as “the vultures circling again.”

Organiser Micky Thompson said: “The reality is that in the private sector, only the spivs and speculators have benefited, while the public sector has demonstrated that we can outperform them and return the finances back to the public purse.”

“We’ve had two failed private models, yet despite the evidence that it doesn’t work the Government is hell-bent on coming back to the private sector to satisfy business partners.”

Directly Operated Railways has posted consistently strong profits and high customer ratings since it bailed out the line in 2009 when National Express defaulted on its contract.

A Government report last year found Eeast Coast was the most efficient railway in the country and the least reliant on taxpayer funding.

And a Yougov poll found most of the British public want railways in public hands - including a slim majority of Conservative voters.

But the Department for Transport told the Journal that DOR is “structured and managed to deliver a short-term solution” and unsuitable for a long-term franchise.

Rail minister Stephen Hammond said: “The skills, expertise and innovative thinking the private sector has brought to the railways cannot be underestimated.

“An industry that was once in decline now provides thousands more journeys to double the amount of passengers than in the 1990s. In addition, we have the safest and most improved railway in Europe.

“The time is now right to find a long-term partner for the East Coast franchise, so passengers using this service can benefit from the same private-sector innovation that is driving improvements across the rest of the network.”

Micky Thompson said he feared bidders would implement the “asset-stripping” McNulty Report which called for North East stations to close.

TUC regional secretary Beth Farhat, who was invited to the conference, said she were “dead set against” any sale but denied she and the bidders had nothing to talk about.

She said: “There’s absolutely no reason to privatise East Coast but if happens then we need positive dialogue and we need our views to be heard.”

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