Passengers quizzed about their priorities, as East Coast returns to public ownership

Picture: Brian Morrison

The East Coast Main Line intercity service is now being run by the state for the first time since 1996, but the Transport Secretary has been told that his plans to re-franchise the route within two years are too hasty.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker has reacted to the changeover at the end of Friday evening by calling for East Coast to be left in Government hands for much longer.

He said: "To provide stability for passengers and staff and demonstrate that the East Coast Main Line can be used to show passenger standards can be driven up across the network, two years is not long enough. We welcome the steps taken to put the passenger centre stage, but the franchise must remain in public ownership for three to five years.”

The Conservatives are also urging that franchises should be ‘longer, and more customer focused’.

The watchdog Passenger Focus has revealed that it has now interviewed over 6000 passengers about their priorities for East Coast, and will give its findings to the Department for Transport. PF chief executive Anthony Smith said: “Passengers will now want a commitment that their views and opinions will be key as decisions are made on the next franchise deal.”

The RMT union staged a demonstration at Newcastle yesterday, calling for East Coast to stay in the  public sector permanently. It’s also demanding that other franchises be abandoned, starting with c2c and East Anglia, which are still currently operated by National Express.

The Chairman of Directly Operated Railways at the DfT, Elaine Holt, has insisted that the ending of the failed NX franchise does not amount to ‘renationalisation’. She has confirmed that the new operating subsidiary, East Coast Main Line Company Limited, will be paying premiums like a private sector franchise, although she has hinted that the level of payments will be lower.

Ms Holt and the Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis toured the main ECML route yesterday, starting from King's Cross. Lord Adonis said East Coast was not simply ‘a care and maintenance job’, and announced station upgrades worth £12m and a catering review, as well as the ending of seat reservation fees from 1 January.

He has also backed down on plans to install gatelines at York station. This highly controversial proposal has already been rejected once by the City of York Planning Committee, although National Express had just started an appeal. The move has been welcomed by campaigners opposing similar gateline schemes at Sheffield and Newcastle.

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