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Monday 16th
posted by Peter Lazenby in Britain

Ideologically driven sell-off exposed once again

THE ideological insanity driving re­privatisation of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) was exposed again yesterday as official figures revealed that it was only one of two franchises to make money for the Treasury.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said that in 2013-14 privateer rail operators received almost £4 billion in subsidies from the taxpayer — handing on hundreds of millions of pounds to shareholders.

Conversely, publicly owned and operated ECML contributed more than £1bn to the public purse.

ECML has flourished since 2009 when privateer National Express took its profits and ran away from the contract, but ministers announced last year that they would sneak through reprivatisation before the general election.

It will be taken over by a privateer partnership involving Stagecoach and Richard Branson’s Virgin on March 1.

Shadow rail minister Lilian Greenwood said the ORR report “proves that the forthcoming East Coast sell-off is set to be a terrible blunder that puts privatisation ahead of passengers’ and taxpayers’ best interests.

“East Coast was one of only two train operating companies that made a net contribution to the Treasury once infrastructure costs were taken in to account,” she said.

“This is a service that the government rushed to privatise without even allowing the publicly owned British operator to bid for the route.”

In addition to the rip-off inflicted on taxpayers, the ORR showed that privateers wrung £8.16bn out of passengers in 2013-14 — a 10.8 per cent rise over 2010-11 and 6.2 per cent higher than 2012-13.

Of the cash squeezed from passengers last year, a total of £2.8bn came from regulated fares which include season tickets, while £5.3bn came from unregulated fares such as off-peak leisure tickets.

“These figures reveal the true scandal of who carries the real burden in the privatised rail industry — the poor old passengers,” said rail union TSSA leader Manuel Cortes.

“These firms are getting a free ride while the passengers have to pay the highest fares in Europe.”