Private Rail ownership ‘recipe for disaster’

Ian has written in the RMT News that the government’s plans to return the East Coast Main Line to private hands will be a disaster.

East Coast mainline and public ownership

traineastcoast2With Mrs Thatcher’s £10 million tax funded funeral barely behind us, this Thatcherite dominated Coalition Government are now showing their true colours; pursuing rail privatisation, regardless of the public interest. The Secretary of State for Transport’s recent announcement to start a tendering process for the East Coast Mainline, and 9 further franchises, will not be in the public interest and will result in the return of rail operators to private hands within the next two years: a recipe for disaster.

Following the rescue of the East Coast line by The Department for Transport from the failing £1.4bn National Express franchise in 2009, the Government are again recklessly returning to a foolish policy of privatisation, despite history repeatedly telling us that the privatisation of rail lines and rail infrastructure is detrimental to the customer in terms of cost and service, and to the Government in terms of huge financial bail outs.

The state owned Directly Operated Railways, which runs the East Coast Mainline, has generated and paid the Government £640 million in premiums and profits since 2009. Surely, even George Osborne and this Government, given the current financial state of the country, would want to keep the franchise in public hands. Pocket the profits for the public; help cut the deficit; perhaps even invest in infrastructure. But not this Government. Clearly, for them private shareholders interests come first. Yet another example of this Government’s failed and ideologically driven economic policies.

No one denies that the East Coast Mainline suffers its own problems of chronic underinvestment, particularly with what is now very tired rolling stock. However, let’s not forget that this is a burden they inherited from the privately owned rail firms, GNER and then National Express: problems exacerbated by the Hatfield and Selby rail crashes.

The only way to run an effective rail service is ensuring the infrastructure is up to scratch through continued investment. Yet from a private sector perspective, the overriding objective is not to invest in maintenance and customer satisfaction but to return funds to shareholders. Privatisation within the rail sector is consistently lacking and detrimental to customers and the industry. Why privatise a service that has been successful?

One needs only look back on the tumultuous demise of Railtrack in 2002, the problems were numerous, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the requirement for essential safety repairs following the Paddington and Hatfield disasters. Railtrack, a privately owned company answerable to shareholders rather than the public, were, to put it bluntly badly managed and effectively bankrupt and were unwilling to try and fund urgent safety improvements, as well as normal running costs. Subsequently, as we all know, the company was put into administration and Network Rail, the not-for-profit body, took over the running of the UK’s rail network.

And let’s be honest who really trusts this Government to introduce a fair and transparent or even competent tendering process in the rail industry. Take the West Coast franchise for instance, which has cost the Government at least £50m, was a complete shambles; and has now resulted in Virgin, who lost to FirstGroup in the tendering process, to have their contract extended until 2017.

Of course, as a squadron of pigs fly overhead, we can all be reassured that this Government, particularly the Chancellor, are doing everything they can to grow the economy and competently manage the nation; forget criticism and advise from the IMF – George Osborne has his finger on the button. So George, that’s two cappuccinos please.

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