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State rail firms eye up British franchises

Deutsche Bahn targets juiciest parts of East Coast while SNCF-linked group gets Thameslink contract

THE government’s mad dash to hand Britain’s rail network to overseas operators continued yesterday as German and French state-owned companies lined up to take over more services.

Overseas operators now run 70 per cent of Britain’s rail network, raking in taxpayer-funded subsidies of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Rail union RMT revealed that German state railway company Deutsche Bahn is being primed to snatch the contract for publicly owned East Coast Mainline.

Deutsche Bahn has established a new British operation, Alliance Rail Holdings, to cash in on the coalition’s privatisation of Britain’s most profitable line.

RMT says the firm is planning a “back-door privatisation” of East Coast, through which it does not even have to bid for a franchise.

Instead it could become an “open access” operator, needing only the rail regulator’s permission to run the service — and could cherry pick East Coast’s most profitable services.

RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is a sickening indication of the nonsense of rail privatisation that while the German state rail company is being given the opportunity to cherry-pick a lucrative, money-spinning opportunity on the East Coast tracks, our own publicly owned rail operator on the same line is threatened with being kicked off by this pro-privatisation government, despite transforming the service and delivering hundreds of millions of pounds back to the British taxpayer.”

East Coast, which operates between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh, has twice been taken back into public ownership after privateers proved incapable of running it efficiently or profitably.

Under public ownership, it has raised more than £800 million for the Treasury over four years — and become Britain’s most highly praised service among passengers.

East Coast bosses also warn that a Deutsche Bahn takeover would be devastating for passengers.

They said in a letter to Alliance Rail Holdings that it “would undermine the overall integrity of the East Coast timetable, reducing connectivity, extending journey times to other destinations and further reducing the value of this franchise to the government.”

The government is flouting its own franchising process to push privatisation of East Coast through at breakneck speed before next year’s general election.

It was also revealed yesterday that the lucrative Southern-Thameslink franchise has been handed to a consortium involving France’s state rail operator.

Mr Cash said it will mean passengers in London subsidising low fares in Paris.

“This government is quite happy to have state ownership of our railways as long as it isn’t the British state,” he said.

A national march and rally against rail cuts will take place today in Doncaster.



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