Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Transport Department Encouraged 'Naive' Rail Firms to Overbid for Franchise

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Transport Department Encouraged 'Naive' Rail Firms to Overbid for Franchise

Article excerpt

Byline: JONATHAN WALKER Political Editor jon.walker@reachplc.com

TRANSPORT Secretary Chris Grayling's plan for running the East Coast Main Line is an "experiment" that may not work, an inquiry has warned.

And the Government is partly to blame for the collapse of the Virgin East Coast franchise, which ran longdistance services on the East Coast Main Line until June this year.

These are the findings of an inquiry by the House of Commons Transport Committee, which investigated what had gone wrong.

The Committee, which includes Easington MP Grahame Morris, placed most of the blame on Stagecoach and Virgin, the businesses that owned Virgin East Coast.

But MPs added: "The Department for Transport (DFT) must also take responsibility for not managing the bid process effectively enough."

Virgin East Coast quit the franchise on June 24, 2018, even though it was due to run until 2023. It was the third time a private operator has walked away from the East Coast Main Line.

Mr Grayling replaced Virgin East Coast with a publicly owned business called London North Eastern Railway, which now operates services. But this is a temporary arrangement and the DFT is developing plans to launch a new operator called the East Coast Partnership.

The new operator will manage both the trains and the track, in a radical break from the current system in which regional franchises run the trains while a national public body, Network, Rail maintains the track.

Now MPs have accused Mr Grayling of pressing ahead with the proposed changes without proper consideration of whether they are likely to provide a better service for passengers.

They said: "Decision-making should be based on a clear plan and a transparent assessment of that plan. In the case of the East Coast Partnership, neither of those things has occurred and we are concerned that future operations on a major part of the UK's network will be captive to a concept for which there is no plan or impact assessment. …

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