Will renationalising East Coast Main Line increase its quality of service?
This morning transport secretary Chris Grayling announced that the East Coast Railway will be brought back into public ownership after Virgin Trains’ franchise on the line was terminated early.
Virgin was contracted to operate on the line for another five years as part of a £3.3bn joint venture with Stagecoach, but that agreement was prematurely ended this morning in a move that the government is keen to deny as a “bailout”.
What does this mean for the East Coast Line? Will it be cheaper and should the government look to nationalise railways across the country completely? Will nationalising solve all of the UK’s train issues?
Mind the gap
Chris Grayling told Sky news this morning that “the issue with our rails today is not about who owns and controls it, it is that they are full”
“So pretty much every railway line around the country has got most trains, or as many trains, as it can fit into the space available, we know that many trains are overcrowded and we know that if something goes wrong then the whole timetable goes to hell in a handcart”.
Mr Grayling is not keen on the idea of nationalisation, stating that each year its funding will be at the mercy of the chancellor’s budget, “the railways have to go and hope that they’ll get a decent allocation of limited public resource”
He also mentioned that, currently, the private sector is funding the introduction of a large number of new trains right across the country. “Do we really want to lose that and stick with the old ones that are so horrible? Most parts of the country are getting brand new trains either this year or next year. I don’t want to lose that.”
The notorious punctuality of Japan’s rail service makes a compelling argument for privatised rail travel. It made the news today when a Japanese train departed 25 seconds early, prompting the train company to apologise profusely for the “truly inexcusable” inconvenience it caused passengers.
In response to Chris Grayling’s announcement, shadow chancellor John McDonnell posted to twitter, praising the decision.
“Good to see Grayling implementing first stage of Labour’s Manifesto promise to renationalise the railways. I think I’m right in saying that he’s now nationalised more railways than any Labour minister in 6 decades. Come on Chris, East Coast line today, the whole system tomorrow.”
Labour believes that in order to ensure the fairest and reliable service for customers, the entire UK rail network should be brought back into public ownership. The premise of this is that they feel current private companies are not performing adequately.
Re-nationalising isn’t likely to cost enormous amounts initially as the majority of the country’s infrastructure, including tracks and stations, are already publicly owned. But it would be a long process as many private contracts would potentially have to run their course before being reclaimed by the government, with some lasting until 2030.
Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow transport minister, has actually questioned the legitimacy of Grayling’s East Coast Rail shake-up. “Ignore the spin, this is not nationalisation” he posted to Twitter, “Chris Grayling is handing the service over to multinational Canadian engineering company SNC Lavalin, Arup & the big four accountancy firm Ernst and Young.”
It remains to be seen whether Grayling’s decision to step in will benefit the service and pave the way for wider nationalisation or whether it’s simply a temporary take over to help Virgin and Stagecoach.