The Government is being accused of "mindless industrial vandalism" over claims it has outsourced a public sector option of taking over failing rail franchises.
Transport Secretary Chris Graying announced on Monday that Stagecoach would continue running the East Coast mainline only for a few months because of losses, while the Government may step in to run the service.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union claimed that Directly Operated Railways, the service which has stepped in to run rail services previously on behalf of the government, was broken up and outsourced to a consortium of consultants and private sector organisations in 2015.
The union said this had compounded the "shambles" over the future of the East Coast mainline.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "Out of sheer political spite the Tory Government smashed up and outsourced the publicly-owned provider of last resort, Directly Operated Railways, and that act of mindless industrial vandalism has now come back to haunt them.
"DOR was shut down, broken up and outsourced in 2015 simply because it had proved in the six years it controlled the East Coast routes that it could run a railway better than the spivs and speculators from the private sector.
"It is now imperative to avoid total chaos that the Government re-establish a publicly owned and controlled operation to take back control of the East Coast mainline on a permanent basis."
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "It is nonsense to suggest there has been any reduction in our ability to maintain rail services if a franchise ends.
"Directly Operated Railways was stood down as a full-time operation in December 2015 once the new franchise was let on the East Coast. It would be a waste of taxpayers' money to have a full-time operation in place when not required.
"The department maintains a full capability to act as an operator of last resort."