Posted 25th October 2013 | 3 Comments

East Coast plans spark new protests

THE Department for Transport has published the procurement documents which mark the start of the transfer of the East Coast intercity franchise back to the private sector.

But unions and opposition MPs are angry, saying that state-owned East Coast has done well since National Express surrendered the franchise in November 2009, and that the Government is simply pursuing a political goal by seeking to award a new long-term franchise in early 2015, before the next General Election.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has defended the policy of returning East Coast to a private sector operator. He said: "We want to see a revitalised East Coast railway, one that both rekindles the spirit of competition for customers on this great route to Scotland and competes with the West Coast on speed, quality and customer service.

“We need a strong partner to ensure we successfully deliver the £240 million programme of infrastructure investments on the route and the improvements in rolling stock that the multi-billion Intercity Express Programme will provide.“

The DfT said the proposals published today were intended to develop 'innovative timetables which build on the core train service requirement', as well as encouraging 'investment in innovative ways to transform the customer experience on trains and at stations', and identify 'further opportunities for investment along the route, particularly at stations'.

Other goals are to make the operation 'more sensitive to the environment' and involve communities when key decisions are needed. Bidders will also be asked to demonstrate how their proposals will support economic growth along the route.

One controversial element which has been raised by opponents, the addition of a third class between First and Standard, has not been included. The Prospectus published today says only that the ratio of First to Standard class seating is under review. It also adds that 'we would be unlikely to consider any variation which delivers a worsening of passenger experience such as a reduction in passenger or luggage space or a reduction in train capacity'.

However, RMT general secretary Bob Crow has condemned the announcement, after his union had obtained a leaked version of the draft prospectus. He said: “It is simply outrageous that the Government are firing the starting gun on the reprivatisation 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 prospectus document leaked to RMT was political dynamite which blew the lid off the lengths to which the Government are prepared to go to bulldoze through re-privatisation before the next election, even it means putting up a barrage of lies, distortion and deceit to play down the success of the public model."

Labour shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh accused the Prime Minister of being 'obsessive' about returning East Coast to the private sector.

She said: “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 £800 million to the taxpayer by the end of this financial year.

“This Government has learned nothing from the West Coast franchising fiasco, which saw over £50 million of taxpayers' money wasted in compensation to train companies because of ministers' incompetence.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Chris, Longstock

    Used ECML yesterday, it seems to be runs as a "service" rather than a "business". The British built rolling stock is modern, clean and spacious, with plenty of seats in standard class with tables and windows (not blank walls).

    Why does it have to have the risk of being downgraded and more expensive?

    As said below, leave it as it is, like the BBC as an example of quality. Even if it shows up the expensive privateers!

  • Michael, London

    ECML is running PERFECTLY fine in 'national ownership'
    franchising it - is just for political expedience and nothing more and nothing less. All hail the great and glorious franchise system as the ECML has proven the franchise system is Flawed! Fatally Flawed!

  • Amir, Eastbourne

    “This Government has learned nothing from the West Coast franchising fiasco, which saw over £50 million of taxpayers' money wasted in compensation to train companies because of ministers' incompetence.”

    Which is the reason you don't want ministers running it!

    Isn't it about time the railways were made like the BBC independent of government and owned by season ticket holders and staff.

    The BBC in theory is owned by license fee payers