The announcement by the Transport Secretary on the future of the East Coast main railway line came as no surprise to me because it was further proof that public ownership is the best way forward for the operation of our rail network.
Chris Grayling told the House of Commons that the Virgin Trains East Coast contract to provide the service until 2023 would be terminated early, on June 24, and it would be taken over by his department as “an operator of last resort” until a new public-private partnership can be formed.
Put bluntly, the joint venture between Scottish transport group Stagecoach holding a 90 per cent stake and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, controlling the other ten per cent, got the figures wrong when they pledged in 2015 to pay £3.3bn to run the service.
The operators are the third to try unsuccessfully to run the line in the wake of GNER and National Express, but what is very telling is that it was successful when it was run publicly for five years from 2009, and that’s a situation we have pledged to return to when we form a Labour government.
As someone who most weeks travels to London on an East Coast train, I speak from first-hand experience when I say we need to see a better service, more trains – hopefully stopping at Morpeth more frequently – greater punctuality, and a fairer and affordable ticket pricing structure.
None of that is any reflection on the job the train staff do because they are fantastic, but in this part of the world we need the best possible rail connection to London.
Interestingly, the line is to be re-branded as the London and North Eastern Railway – a name once synonymous what all that’s best in our region.
LNER was a name this region was once so proud of and I am sure we will be again in the future as we in the Labour Party continue to press for the re-nationalisation of the line.