Rail petition seeks to keep East Coast line public

By agency reporter
18 Oct 2013

Campaigners will gather in central London today (18 October) to hand over a petition organised by group We Own It group, and signed by more than 23,000 rail passengers, calling for the East Coast Main Line to remain under public ownership.

Protestors from Action for Rail, We Own It and Bring Back British Rail will be at Old Palace Yard in Westminster with RMT General Secretary Bob Crow and TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes, where they will be joined by Shadow Rail Minister Lilian Greenwood MP and Caroline Lucas MP.

The East Coast Main Line is the only remaining publicly-owned line in the UK, and MPs from across the political spectrum have given their support to the campaign to keep the East Coast Main Line in public ownership.

More than 60 MPs from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Green and Scottish National (SNP) parties have signed an early day motion calling on the government not to re-privatise the line.

Lilian Greenwood, Labour’s shadow rail minister, and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party will meet with campaigners in Westminster to receive the petition today to coincide with the second hearing of Caroline Lucas’s private members bill on nationalisation of the railways.

Campaigners from Action for Rail, We Own It, Bring Back British Rail and 38 Degrees will hand over the petition to the MPs who will present it on their behalf to the Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin.

In Edinburgh, Labour MPs Sheila Gilmore and Ian Murray will join activists at Waverley Station – one of the main stations on the East Coast Main Line – between 11.30am and 1pm to show their support for the campaign to keep East Coast public. At Doncaster station, Action for Rail protestors handed out ‘Keep East Coast public’ postcards to commuters between 8am and 9am.

The East Coast Main Line has been in public ownership since 2009, after two previous private train operators were forced to bail out on the franchise due to financial difficulties. Directly Operated Railways (DOR) – the public operator of the East Coast Main Line – has widely been regarded as a success, achieving record levels of customer satisfaction, improvements in key performance areas and providing the highest returns to the taxpayer, while receiving the lowest public subsidy among all the train operators.

Last week (Tuesday 8 October) DOR published annual results which showed: it paid £208m in premium and dividend payments to the Treasury in the last financial year (2012/13); its turnover increased by 4.2 per cent; and it carried more than 19 million passengers, up one per cent on the previous year.

Figures from the Office of Rail Regulation show that it received the lowest public subsidy of any rail operator by some considerable margin. Last year, Virgin Trains (on the West Coast Main Line) received seven times as much taxpayer subsidy.

Action for Rail spokesperson and TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Privatising the East Coast Main Line defies all logic. Since it was re-nationalised the line has made a large contribution to the taxpayer, bringing in over £600 million already.

“By taking the East Coast out of public ownership the government will be passing the income the line raises into the pockets of corporate shareholders, when it should be using the cash to reduce rail fares and improve services.”

Cat Hobbs from We Own It said: “We’re asking the Secretary of State to listen to more than 23,000 East Coast users who are sending him a direct message ‘hands off our railway’. The government needs to call a halt to this reckless gamble with a successful and publicly run business which has handed over £600 million back to the Treasury.”

Ellie Harrison from Bring Back British Rail said: “No wonder this coalition is so desperate to re-privatise the East Coast mainline. Because, as it continues to offer the best service for passengers and the best value for taxpayers in public ownership, it is the living proof for our argument – that services as essential as our railways should always only be publicly owned and controlled.”

Shadow Rail Minister Lilian Greenwood MP said: “East Coast has gone from strength to strength since 2009. Passenger satisfaction is at record levels, all profits have been reinvested in the service and £600 million has been returned to the taxpayer already.

“It makes no sense to waste public money and government time on selling off East Coast instead of getting to grips with the cost of living crisis. David Cameron should now take note of this petition and cancel this ideologically driven privatisation.”

Lib Dem John Leech MP said: “I support the retention of the East Coast Main Line in public ownership. We should have a public sector comparator so that we can properly assess whether the passengers and the taxpayers get a better deal from the public or the private sector.”

Caroline Lucas MP from the Green Party said: “East Coast is delivering millions back to the taxpayer. Most other train companies are delivering millions to shareholders. Privatisation has unquestionably been a disaster. The question isn’t just ‘Why is the Government determined to re-privatise East Coast?’ it’s ‘Why can’t we bring the whole rail network back into public hands?’

“The fact is that as long as our railways are run for the benefit of shareholders rather than passengers, people are going to carry on enduring high fares and poor services.”

[Ekk/4]

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