Midnight express – East Coast rail back in public hands
At midnight tonight the troubled East Coast Mainline will be taken back into public hands under a new, publicly owned company, after National Express failed to meet the terms of its £1.4 billion franchise agreement.
The Government says the line will be managed by the new East Coast body for the next two years, but unions are calling for the prestigious route to be kept in public hands and run on a not-for-profit basis. We’re in good company: this summer the Transport Select Committee argued that an East Coast line kept under public ownership would be an ideal way to measure up the franchise system, acting as a comparator to the lines run by private operators.
The announcement about the programme for taking the East Coast line is silent, however, about what will become of the other two services currently run by National Express – the lucrative commuter C2C and East Anglia lines. Unions have been campaigning hard for the company to be stripped of the remaining franchises, but at the moment the picture for workers on the two lines remains uncertain. A provider that defaults on one contract should be stripped of its other franchises, according to “cross-default” rules, but the government is said to still be considering the legal position.
In yet another example of the problems with the franchise system this week, the Government imposed a ‘remedial plan’ to address poor performance by London Midland.
And finally, some food for thought as all of this goes on, is that Conservative Party policy is to reform the system – by pushing for longer franchises of 15-20 years.