Humza Yousaf urged to back East Coast rail public ownership

A Virgin train crossing the bridge into Berwick Upon Tweed on its way to Edinburgh
A Virgin train crossing the bridge into Berwick Upon Tweed on its way to Edinburgh
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Scottish Labour has urged the Scottish Government to support its calls to take the East Coast mainline back into public ownership following the early termination of the Stagecoach contract.

Labour’s rural affairs and connectivity spokesman Colin Smyth MSP has written to Scotland’s transport minister Humza Yousaf telling him to formally back the nationalisation plans as the party stepped up its calls for the line to be nationalised.

The collapse of the Stagecoach-Virgin East Coast rail franchise has led to calls for the service to be run publicly.

The House of Commons transport committee is to hold an inquiry to establish how the franchise has come within months of going bust, potentially forcing the UK government to step in.

UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the franchise holder, which is 90 per cent owned by Sir Brian Souter’s Perth-based Stagecoach Group, could be allowed to continue running Edinburgh-London services on a non-profit basis or be replaced by a publicly-owned operator.

Yesterday Mr Smyth attempted to put pressure on Mr Yousaf to get him to back Labour’s plans for full scale nationalisation.

In his letter, Mr Smyth said: “I am writing to urge you and the Scottish Government to publicly support Labour’s calls for the East Coast mainline to be renationalised following the collapse of its franchise. 

“The decision by the UK government to sell-off the franchise to Stagecoach was a betrayal of taxpayers and the travelling public.

“The failure of the Stagecoach franchise reflects the deep-rooted problems with our privatised railways but we now have an opportunity to put the East Coast mainline back into public hands.

“In the past the Scottish Government have claimed to support publicly-run railways in Scotland, so it is extremely disappointing that so far you have chosen not to support Labour’s call for a publicly-run East Coast mainline, particularly given how important these services are to passengers in Scotland.   This is a highly profitable route, and it is one that thousands of Scots rely on each day.

“From 2009 to 2015 the route was publically run, raising more than £1 billion.

“Returning it to public hands would not only ensure the best service for customers, but it would provide a boost to public finances.”

Mr Smyth added: “I hope that you will reconsider your position, and that you and the Scottish Government will support Labour’s calls for a publicly-run East Coast mainline.”

Last night Mr Yousaf said: “Both myself and my predecessors have long made clear to the UK government our preference for public sector operators to be given a fair chance to operate our railways. The UK government has the contractual relationships with East Coast Rail’s operators and they should be held to account for the current situation. Our priority is to ensure continuity of services for travellers.

“No options for the future of the East Coast mainline should be taken off the table, including the UK government continuing to run the contract and returning the appropriate profits to Scotland.”