Protests staged over reprivatised East Coast line

A LEADING rail union has staged a series of protests to mark the final day of the East Coast rail franchise being run in the public sector.

RMT Union members at Edinburgh Waveley station today. Picture: Neil Hanna.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union organised demonstrations along the East Coast Main Line today, including stations in London, Doncaster and Edinburgh.

The union is opposed to the franchise being switched to private operators Virgin and Stagecoach.

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RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Six years ago the East Coast Main Line collapsed into chaos when National Express threw the keys back because they couldn’t extract enough profit. That followed an earlier spectacular private sector failure on the line when Sea Containers went bust.

“It was left to the public sector to not only rescue this vital north-south rail link from total meltdown but to turn around its performance and to start handing hundreds of millions of pounds back to the taxpayer in contrast to the rip-off private companies.

“This weekend, in an act of gross national betrayal of the British people that will cost us dear, the route is being handed over to Virgin/Stagecoach to be run again solely in the interests of private profit, taking a third gamble after the two previous corporate failures.

“This re-privatisation is based on pure, hard-right, Thatcherite ideology and is an act of industrial vandalism that will smash apart Britain’s most successful rail company for just one reason - it is publicly owned.

“The RMT will mark this latest scandal on Britain’s privatised railways and the union will renew the fight to return the entire network to public ownership - a policy supported by 70% of the British people.”

In a farewell message to stakeholders, East Coast’s managing director Karen Boswell said significant investment had been made in staff and assets since the company inherited the business in 2009, with a “relentless focus” on customers.

She said: “That’s meant we’ve been able to create a business that is financially strong, and East Coast is now one of Britain’s most profitable train companies.

“We’ve made significant improvements in train performance and punctuality too, and we’ve been able to achieve one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any franchised long-distance operator in the country and an employee engagement score that is virtually unparalleled in the rail industry.

“That success has been acknowledged too by our peers and during the last five years, we’ve been the recipients of no fewer than 65 industry awards.

“I’m proud of the fact that we have restored the pride to this ‘jewel in the crown’ of Britain’s railways, leaving a legacy of having created the best possible platform for this franchise to continue its success and development into the future under new ownership.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The skills and experience that the private sector provides drives forward innovation and investment, and has helped to transform our rail network into a real success story.

“We are confident that the new East Coast franchise gives the best deal for passengers. It will provide more seats, more services, new trains and over £140 million of investment along the route. In addition, more than £3 billion will be paid to taxpayers.”