After five years of state control, the East Coast train line has been privatised for its third time.
This time, Virgin and Stagecoach have joined forces to take control of the East Coast service, which provides services on the mainline from London to Edinburgh.
The East Coast trains have now been rebranded as Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC).
This is the third privatisation of the East Coast Rail Service, as the first two companies did not succeed in meeting their financial commitments. The last company, National Express, handed the rail services back to state control when revenues fell in late 2009 following the financial crisis.
Since then, the publicly-owned East Coast Trains returned a little more than £1 billion to the taxpayer along with generating £40 million in profits. The success has resulted in calls from the unions and Labour to retain state ownership of the rail service.
The RMT union even staged protests at the stations along the route the day before the train services were transferred to private ownership.
Mike Cash, the general secretary of the RMT union, claimed that the re-privatisation was “an act of industrial vandalism that will smash apart Britain’s most successful rail company for just one reason – it is publicly owned”.
Cash continued by arguing that the public sector “had not only ‘rescued this vital rail link from total meltdown but turned around its performance.”
University of Edinburgh first year History of Art student, Sophie Coleridge agreed with Cash’s assessment: “the rail services are already quite efficient as the trains go frequently and not usually delayed. The prices are quite reasonable as they are and really there are no benefits of them being privatised.”
The eight-year Virgin and Stagecoach joint franchise went ahead with the first service leaving Newcastle for London King’s Cross at 7:55 am on Sunday.
Managing director of Virgin Trains East Coast, David Horne, has addressed the issue of re-privatisation, stating that he is “certain it is the right approach for passengers and the taxpayer.” Mr Horne has also promised extra services between Edinburgh and London, along with hot food delivered to passenger seats.
From May 2019, the average Edinburgh-London train will be cut by 15 minutes and one of the two services per hour will take under four hours. Although the cost of ‘anytime’ fares is due to be cut by 10 per cent from the current Edinburgh to London prices of £156.40 single and £313 return, there are no promises yet of regarding the reduction of other fares.