'˜Risk' to passengers from new way of running east coast line
An untested way of running the Edinburgh-London east coast main line risks further disruption for passengers following the collapse of a third train operator on the route, MPs have warned.
It came as part of a damning report by the Commons’ transport committee into the collapse of Stagecoach-led Virgin Trains East Coast franchise in June, which it said had run out of money.
The report concluded the planned East Coast Partnership posed “unnecessary risk” because of uncertainty over whether it would work.
UK ministers want the new body to run trains and tracks “under one roof” to ensure closer working between operators and Network Rail.
However, former Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis described it as “an entirely back-of-the-envelope plan... nobody can define it or has the faintest idea of its elements.”
Passengers have seen five different operators run the trains since December 2007. They are currently back in state hands – currently under LNER – for the second time.
Committee chair Lilian Greenwood said: “The Secretary of State [Chris Grayling] pointed the finger at Stagecoach and Virgin for getting their bids wrong, but the department is not blameless.
“Even now, there is no concrete plan, nor timescales, for the interim operator of this franchise.
“From our inquiry, we cannot be sure, and cannot reassure passengers or public, that the arrangements for the East Coast Partnership will more successfully overcome the systemic difficulties presented by the current set-up.”
Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus said: “However the East Coast is run, passengers will be looking for the quality of current services to be maintained and built on.
“Passengers will continue to judge services by the day-to-day performance, whether it is punctuality, value for money, the cleanliness of the train or levels of crowding.
“Having more stability in the underlying contract between government and the train company will help achieve these things that matter most to passengers.”
A spokesperson for the UK Department for Transport said: “We are now preparing for East Coast Partnership – bringing together the operation of track and train to deliver a high quality service to passengers and value for money for the taxpayer.
“We want train companies to have a greater role in infrastructure planning to help them act as stewards for the rail network and deliver the greatest possible benefits for passengers.”
A transport union has balloted thousands of ScotRail staff for industrial action in a row over pay for working on rest days.
The RMT union has sent ballot papers to 3,000 members for industrial action up to and including strikes.
RMT regional officer Mick Hogg said the issue regarded pay discrepancies for working on days off.
The union is seeking pay parity with ScotRail drivers who are reportedly paid up to £300 for working on rest day while others workers receive less.
Mr Hogg said all workers should be treated equally.
Meanwhile, a second union has said it has notified ScotRail of its intention to ballot on the same issue.
TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Rest Day Working payments are paid to staff to compensate them for giving up a day’s rest in order to keep our railway running.
“Our railways need more than train drivers to run. Our members in ScotRail keep trains running safely from the control room and they also make sure that passengers are safe and informed.“ScotRail are treating our members as second class citizens.”
A ScotRail spokesman said: “We are continuing to work with the trade unions and our people to try to reach a solution that benefits everyone.”“We do not expect this to affect services.”
ScotRail is recruiting 140 new workers to cut the need for rest day working and overtime.