SHADOW TRANSPORT Secretary Michael Dugher said the ending of the state-run East Coast company was “a hammer blow for passengers, taxpayers and employees alike”.
The Barnsley East MP accused Prime Minister David Cameron of an “ideological sell-off” which he said had ended a public sector service which has delivered £1bn to the Treasury, kept fares down, had record passenger satisfaction and engaged the workforce with unparalleled success.
Mr Dugher said: “It is clear that when it comes to transport, people have a straight choice –the status quo or Labour’s better plan. Labour will start the process of legislating in the first 100 days of a new parliament to allow a public sector operator to be able to take on lines and challenge the private sector on a genuinely level playing field.”
Mr Dugher added: “Labour will also hold a speedy review of rail franchising to replace it with a system fit for purpose and create a strong passenger voice within a new strategic body for running the railways.”
The East Coast London-to-Scotland rail route, which travels through Yorkshire, became privately run again yesterday after more than five years in the public sector.
Operated by a company under the control of the Department for Transport since November 2009, the East Coast line has now been taken over by a joint venture involving Virgin and Stagecoach.
Under the new name Virgin Trains East Coast, the franchise’s first service yesterday was the 7.55am Newcastle to London, while the first northbound train left King’s Cross station in London heading for Aberdeen at 8.45am.
The Labour government stepped in to run the line when franchise holder National Express pulled out in November 2009, but it was always the intention of the coalition Government to return the line to the private sector.
The Department for Transport said it was confident that the new franchise was the best way forward, but trade unions have pointed to the huge sums the publicly owned line has been able to return to the Treasury.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It is disappointing to see East Coast in private hands after five years of public sector success.”
On Saturday the RMT transport union organised demonstrations along the line in a protest against its re-privatisation.