Are the Tories about to re-nationalise East Coast rail?

Chris Grayling said taking the East Coast line back into public ownership was an option - the unlikely admission plays perfectly into Labour's hands.

The government admitted that bringing a private rail company back into public ownership is an option – the only thing stopping them is fear of losing face.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said two days ago that taking East Coast line, currently run by Stagecoach and Virgin, into public ownership was “very much on the table”.

And the time pressure is on: Grayling himself admitted that Virgin East Coast will collapse in only “very small number of months”.

Campaign group We Own It responded to the news: “It’s absolutely brilliant that the East Coast line could be brought back into public hands. We’re really pleased that Chris Grayling is saying public ownership is on the table.

“Private companies like Stagecoach and Virgin have failed repeatedly to stick to their promises on East Coast, whereas public ownership was a huge success between 2009 and 2014.”

But the transport secretary also said the Stagecoach or Virgin may be able to continue running the line on new terms that were less financially onerous.

It’s most likely the government will opt for a new deal with the private operators – but that they actually admitted re-nationalisation was an option, that it’s possible, is the real point here.

Chris Grayling may have inadvertently shot himself in the foot making the admission, the comments playing perfectly into the hands of Labour, who have been campaigning on re-nationalisation of the railways for years.

It certainly adds legitimacy to a policy firmly associated with the opposition.

As Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the transport workers union the TSSA put it to Left Foot Forward: although “nationalisation of East Coast [is] the only sensible option”:

“Grayling won’t be taking this course because to do so would concede another political victory to Jeremy Corbyn, who has committed our Party to bringing rail back in house. It’s a winning policy with the public.”

“The transport Secretary is making decisions about our railways which are completely rooted in his ideological party interest. All pragmatic and considered advice now counsels the nationalisation of East Coast as the only sensible option.”

Simply by admitting re-nationalising the East Coast is an option – albeit one he almost definitely won’t take – Grayling has inadvertently added weight the Labour’s position. So we may see the East Coast re-nationalised in the near future, but probably not under a Tory government.

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6 Responses to “Are the Tories about to re-nationalise East Coast rail?”

  1. Das

    Britain burns while the Tories play the fiddle!
    I usually admire loyalty but when it risks other people’s money, our money, they really ought to come clean and repeat after me and about 65 mil others, “privatisation has been tried but does not work and it’s too damn expensive”.

  2. Jimmy glesga

    The only way to nationalise the railways without further cost to the taxpayer is to ensure there is no compensation the the spivs that took on the franchises and the rolling stock owners.

  3. William

    The way to nationalise the railways is to just let the franchises run until the end of their contracts. Should the franchisees get into financial trouble in the meantime, take over but never bail them out.

  4. patrick newman

    Grayling of all people! I dont see it and it is more likely to be a fudge that allows Stagecoach (95%) – Virgin to continue the service under a much more benign financial arrangement. It use to be Dick Turpin who did the highway robbery now it is the ‘Stagecoach’ itself! Surely if this happens is there not scope for a complaint by previous bidders and operators that the government is participating in unfair competition practices (FirstGroup, Keolis/Eurostar were in the 2014/15 bidding process) Arguably Virgin/Stagecoach knowingly deliberately underbid to get the contract unfairly but in the reasonable expectation the Tories would be too embarrassed to be ‘unkind’!

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