MP and union fury over East Coast line future

French company set to take over East Coast line Picture: Comp
French company set to take over East Coast line Picture: Comp
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Labour MPs and transport unions have reacted with fury to reports that the rail link between Edinburgh and London is to be taken over by a consortium largely owned by the French state.

Edinburgh East Labour MP Sheila Gilmore and the RMT and TSSA unions have hit out at the edcsion which is expected to be announced later this week.

Easington Labour MP Grahame Morris said the decision to re-privatise the East Coast line was “right-wing Tory dogma being put ahead of the best interests of passengers”.

The UK Government has been anxious to return the London to Scotland East Coast main line to the private sector ever since it was taken over from National Express by the Department for Transport in 2009.

But now it is likely that this week’s announcement of a new private franchise will see the line, from next year, being run by joint bidders Eurostar and French transport company Keolis which is 70% owned by state-run French rail company SNCF.

Opponents of the move to re-privatise the East Coast line have pointed out that the public-sector run company has made big returns to the Treasury during its tenure.

Ms Gilmore said: “Passengers recognise the improvements to services that East Coast have made under public ownership over the last few years. They also appreciate that at present, all profits are retained for the benefit of British passengers and taxpayers.

“But despite calls from Labour for these arrangements to continue in the long term, today we hear that East Coast is set to be privatised just before the next general election.”

She went on: “Ironically if the contract is awarded to Keolis - which is largely owned by the French government - ticket revenue may well be reinvested in improved services. Unfortunately these will be services between places like Paris and Lyon or Marseille and Monaco, rather than Edinburgh and London.

“A future Labour government would allow a public sector operator to bid for rail contracts, so that passengers and taxpayers always get value for money.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT transport union said re-privatising the line was “ludicrous” and a “national disgrace”.

He added: “This is pure industrial vandalism and the strong rumour that the French-state operator is in pole position to mop up this vital, strategic north/south route says it all.

“This Government is happy to have state ownership of our railways as long as it isn’t by the British state, in the interests of the British people.”

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA transport union, said: “This has got nothing to do with improving services but everything to do with sheer political spite.

“Here we have the best-value franchise, which has returned £1 billion to the taxpayer over the past five years, being sold overseas because it is a public sector success story.”