Socialist Worker

As the East Coast line is renationalised - privatisation lies at the root of rail chaos

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2605

Virgin East Coast has been run into the ground by greedy bosses

Virgin East Coast has been run into the ground by greedy bosses (Pic: Steven Hughes/Flickr)


The Tories are letting rail company fat cats off the hook while privatisation is causing transport misery for passengers.

Millions of passengers on Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Northern trains faced cancellations and delays this week as the rail network went into “meltdown”.

And, hapless transport secretary Chris Grayling was last week forced to announce the renationalisation of the east coast rail franchise.

He’s appointed a group under government control, led by the firm Arup, to run the service.

Grayling defended the move, saying he wanted to create a new “East Coast Partnership” from 2020 anyway, which would combine train and track operations.

His announcement last November that he was allowing the east coast franchise to be terminated early represented a bail out for the bosses.

The line was run by Virgin Trains East Coast (Vtec), which was 90 percent owned by Stagecoach and 10 percent by Virgin. They were supposed to pay the government £2 billion to run the franchise until 2023.

But Grayling says they’re not now liable for the money.

This is the third time in ten years that a company has ended its contract on the east coast line early. The line was under state control between 2009 to 2015, but Vtec won the contract when it was up for privatisation again.

When the line was run by government firm Directly Operated Railways it made a billion pounds in profit.

In 2017 passenger numbers in Britain fell under 5 billion for the first time in a decade.

Clue

One RMT transport union member who works on the east coast line said, “The management have no clue.

“They have given us duties which mean we are unable to deliver a good service.”

Grayling’s plans to take back control of east coast come just at a time when rail bosses are shaking up timetables in order to make more money—causing travel chaos.

On Monday, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) had a huge revision of their timetable and rescheduled every train.

Normally train companies make minor changes to timetables, but GTR have started from scratch—with huge consequences. One in seven of its services were cancelled on Monday morning.

Some 17 percent were delayed by at least five minutes. And management are desperate to blame anyone but themselves for the disruption.

Quoted in the Guardian newspaper, commuter Darren Riley said staff at Bolton station were “polite and apologetic but not particularly helpful”.

“One of them told me he was a senior manager and blamed much of the disruption on the unions,” he said.

“He continued to blame the unions before asking what my job was and so found out that I work for a trade union.”

Despite Vtec ducking out of the contract and avoiding billions in payments,

Grayling said he won’t stop its parent companies bidding for transport contacts in the future.

The east coast scandal and GTR both show that a well?funded, safe and ­affordable transport system should not be left to the mercy of private transport bosses.


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