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TWO new fleets of bullet trains — total cost £5.9 billion — will be funded by taxpayers’ money before they are passed on to private firms.
The first Azuma high-speed train on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) travelled from London King’s Cross to Leeds yesterday.
ECML services were renationalised last year after privateer Stagecoach-Virgin proved incapable of running them efficiently or profitably. The failure cost taxpayers £2bn. However, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has said that ECML is to be reprivatised.
Azumas — modelled on the Japanese bullet train — will initially be used on the London-Leeds route before being introduced in the coming months to the rest of the LNER network, which stretches from London to Inverness and Aberdeen via the east Midlands, Yorkshire, north-east England and Edinburgh.
The 65 Azumas will cost £2.7bn, and another £720 million is being spent upgrading the ECML line’s tracks, signals and equipment needed to run the new trains.
Another fleet of Azumas for privateers Great Western will cost £3.2bn — again funded by the taxpayer.
The trains are being paid for out of a multibillion-pound pot thar the government has earmarked to improve inter-city services generally.
Costs for the fleets will be spread over 27.5 years, the Department for Transport told the Morning Star.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of union Transport Salaried Staffs Association said of the latest hand-over of taxpayers’ cash: “It’s simply madness to allow the public purse to take all the investment strain so private train operators can boost their profits.
“The running of services on the east coast by privateers has been an unmitigated disaster, with two private operators going bust and the public sector having to pick up the pieces.
“Publicly owned LNER, like East Coast Trains in its day, have clearly demonstrated the many benefits of running our trains in the interests of passengers and taxpayers, not shareholders.”
Mick Whelan of train drivers’ union Aslef said: “We welcome the new trains — but the sad fact is that more public money has had to be spent to bring them up to specification.”
Reprivatisation plans should be scrapped so that the service remains publicly owned, he said.
The Stagecoach-Virgin debacle was the second to result in renationalisation of ECML services. In 2007 a 10-year contract with National Express ended after just one year because of losses and inefficiency. Under public ownership for the following five years the service made £5 million for the Treasury. Passenger satisfaction soared — and then the government reprivatised it.
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