End of the line? Grayling hints at Government taking control of troubled East Coast Mainline

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling
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THE Government is considering directly operating the East Coast Mainline after Chris Grayling announced that the Stagecoach-led franchise would only be able to continue in its current form for a “very small number of months”.

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The Transport Secretary said the option of the Department for Transport operating the service was “very much on the table” and would be considered against Stagecoach continuing to operate services on the line on a “short-term, not-for-profit basis”.

Delivering a statement in the Commons, he told MPs: “I have already informed the House that the franchise will in due course run out of money and will not last until 2020 but it has now been confirmed that the situation is much more urgent.

“It is now clear that this franchise will only be able to continue in its current form for a matter of a very small number of months and no more.”

Mr Grayling said the franchise had breached a “key financial covenant” but stressed that the business would continue to operate “as usual with no impact on services or staff on the East Coast”.

“But it does mean I need to put in place in the very near future a successor arrangement to operate this railway and to end the current contract.”

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He said he had “not yet made a decision on the successor operator to run the East Coast railway” and that there “is no question of anyone receiving a bailout”.

Responding to the Transport Secretary’s confirmation that the East Coast Mainline franchise will end within months, Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council and who speaks for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority on transport issues, said: “Passengers will be angry and disappointed that the improvements to East Coast Mainline services they were promised have been put in doubt less than three years after this franchise began, the latest in a series of franchise failures on this line.

“This is a key transport link for business and the region’s tourism industry and we will urgently be seeking clarity from the Transport Secretary on how services on this line will be delivered in the short term and reassurances over the longer term plan for this vital route.”

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Mr Grayling said one option was “to consider the possibility of Stagecoach continuing to operate services on the East Coast under a very strictly designed short-term arrangement”.

But he said: “Given the circumstances in which this Government is having to step in to protect passengers on this line I am only prepared to consider this option on the basis that the franchise would be operated on a short-term, not-for-profit basis.”

The second option Mr Grayling outlined would see the East Coast franchise “directly operated by the Department for Transport through an operator of last resort”. “This option is very much on the table and will be selected if the assessment I have set out determines that it offers ... a better deal for passengers than the alternative.”

Shadow transport Andy McDonald said: “The announcement today is yet another monumental misjudgment to add to a growing list of miscalculations by this Secretary of State. It’s increasingly clear that he doesn’t care about taxpayers, rail passengers or the rail industry itself.”