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Railways East Coast Main Line in renewed furore as government says it may renationalise the service again

CHAOS has descended again on troubled East Coast Main Line (ECML) train services with the government announcement that it may have to renationalise the service for a second time.

Privateer operators Virgin and Stagecoach are dumping the franchise three years early, dodging an estimated £2 billion they were to pay the Treasury.

Stagecoach had said it would continue with the franchise, but Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said last night that the company “got its numbers wrong.”

He told the Commons today that ECML may have to be taken back into public ownership.

Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) general secretary Manuel Cortes called for ECML to be taken back into public ownership today.

He said: “When East Coast was run as a publicly owned franchise, it made money, had popular passenger feedback and punctuality was up.

“We have the opportunity now to maximise its future efficiency by bringing together wheel and steel under publicly owned Network Rail.

“This will end the damaging fragmentation of our railways which has led to a massive escalation in costs.

“East Coast doesn’t need rescuing. It needs saving from Tory privatisation.”

It is the third time that ECML privateers have failed. Operator Sea Containers was the first.

Its successor National Express abandoned the franchise in 2009 after proving incapable of running the service efficiently.

Government-owned Directly Owned Railways took over ECML. During five years under public control, efficiency and passenger satisfaction soared and ECML handed a £1bn surplus to the Treasury.

In 2014, the Tories and their Liberal Democrat collaborators responded to the publicly owned success by privatising ECML again, handing it to a partnership of Virgin and Stagecoach, with the latter holding a 90 per cent stake, and once again the privatised model has failed.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash said: “This shameful fiasco on one of Britain’s main rail routes needs to end and it needs to end now.

“East Coast should be renationalised with immediate effect and the scale of the scandal unveiled today should mark the point at which the whole rotten business of rail privatisation in Britain was called to a halt.”

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