Govt takes over east coast mainline

By Alex Stevenson

The government will formally take over the east coast mainline from National Express this weekend.

At 23:59 GMT this evening Directly Operated Railways, the Department for Transport (DfT) subsidiary, will take over control of the mainline from the struggling private firm.

National Express is suffering from debt worth £1.1 billion and is seeking £360 million in investment to reduce this. Its loss-making management of the east coast mainline had only made its balance sheet worse.

Its prospects for holding on to its other two franchises – East Anglia and c2c – appear substantially diminished after losing the east coast mainline.

“I can assure the travelling public that services will continue without disruption and all tickets will be honoured,” transport secretary Andrew Adonis said.

The Conservatives have attacked the government’s strategy towards the franchising process.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said last week: “A franchising system that has focussed so strongly on squeezing passengers for higher and higher fares and pushing train operators to make wildly optimistic bids was always going to risk producing casualties like this one on the East coast line.

“We need proper reform of our rail franchising system and that means longer, more customer focussed franchises which will encourage better long term strategic planning.”

Scottish first minister Alex Salmond was also critical of the government’s policy in first minister’s questions yesterday.

Plans to create the Glasgow to King’s Cross rail link appear likely to be scrapped – a point Mr Salmond’s Scottish National party had campaigned hard on during the Glasgow North East by-election.