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Government urged to return East Coast Mainline to public ownership

A ministerial decision on the future of the franchise seems imminent.

A petition calling for the East Coast Mainline to be brought back into public ownership will be handed to the Government on Tuesday amid expectations of an imminent decision on the future of the franchise.

Activists will hand in the petition to the Transport Department in London, calling on Transport Secretary Chris Grayling not to “bail out” the Stagecoach/Virgin franchise.

Mr Grayling said earlier this month that Stagecoach would continue running the London to Edinburgh line only for “a small number of months”, revealing the Government may step in to run the service.

The petition, initiated by campaign group We Own It, said Stagecoach and Virgin have failed, adding: “Chris Grayling says he will give in to their demands and bail them out to the tune of £2 billion.

“East Coast was run successfully in public ownership from 2009 to 2015 after the last private company failure – but then it was reprivatised. 76% of us want public ownership and it would save us money.

“Chris Grayling, put taxpayers and passengers first – don’t give Virgin Trains East Coast a free ticket to ruin our railway. Bring East Coast into public ownership now.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, which is supporting the petition, said: “The privatised East Coast Mainline has failed the travelling public and it has failed the workers who operate it.

End the fixation with the spivs and speculators from the private sector Mick Cash, RMT union

“It has been a disaster from day one and has exposed once and for all the racket of rail privatisation in Britain.

“There are RMT members on the job today who have gone from British Rail, to GNER, to National Express, to Directly Operated Railways, to Virgin/Stagecoach, and who are now left wondering who their sixth employer will be in little more than two decades on this vital section of Britain’s rail network. That is a shameful way to treat the workforce and shines the spotlight on the continuing chaos of rail privatisation.

“Today’s petition called for a simple and sensible solution. End the fixation with the spivs and speculators from the private sector, and bring the whole lot back in house, on a permanent basis, with immediate effect.”

The franchise was taken into public ownership in 2009 after being run by National Express.

It was reprivatised when Stagecoach and Virgin signed a deal to run the line from 2015 to 2023, promising to pay the government £3.3 billion to run the service.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The Government has been very clear – no one is getting a bailout and Virgin Stagecoach will continue to meet its commitments made to the taxpayer on the East Coast rail franchise, as it has done since 2015.

“Any suggestion that the taxpayer will be out of pocket is completely wrong. Stagecoach has paid 20% more back to the taxpayer than when the line was operated by Directly Operated Railways and we continue to receive hundreds of millions of pounds from the operating profit of this route.

“In less than three years it has returned nearly £1bn to the taxpayer while delivering satisfaction rates of more than 90% and employing more staff than it did when in the public sector.”

Cat Hobbs, director of We Own It, said: “We’re calling on Chris Grayling to make the right choice, end it with Stagecoach and Virgin and bring the East Coast franchise into public hands.

“We’ve seen again and again: the line keeps failing when it’s privatised but works brilliantly in public ownership.

“Private companies need to know we won’t bail them out or renegotiate when they get their sums wrong. Passengers and the public want East Coast to work for people not profit.”

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