ANOTHER DAY – and another damning report which can be succinctly summarised as ‘How not to run a railway’. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from today’s Transport Select Committee inquiry into the financial collapse of the East Coast Main Line franchise run by Virgin and Stagecoach before the troubled route had, once again, to be taken back into public control.
In the week when it also emerged that new Azuma express trains are, in fact, incompatible with the rail infrastructure north of York and will have to travel at slower than advertised speeds when they’re introduced to the route later this year, this critique further justifies Theresa May’s reported call earlier this month for there to be a wholesale review of the rail franchising process and its many flaws.
Now, given the criticisms that have been set out against the Department for Transport, and the collective loss of confidence in Chris Grayling’s competence, the Prime Minister needs to instigate this inquiry – and quickly – before passengers lose even more patience with the Government when it comes to the day-to-day running of the railways.
Not only do MPs conclude that bidders were actively encouraged to over-bid for the franchise, the same reason GNER and National Express ran into trouble, but no one actually checked the Department for Transport’s Invitation for Tender document to see if it would be possible, or practical, to run extra trains on a railway already operating at capacity. That Network Rail did not have the authority to sign off the over-optimistic undertakings made by Virgin and Stagecoach led, once again, to rail chiefs and politicians over-promising, under-delivering and alienating passengers.
With MPs sceptical about the attempts to date by Mr Grayling to reform the management of the line, this report makes Mrs May’s review even more urgent.