Inquiry into InterCity East Coast rail franchise to be launched

The Transport Committee is launching an inquiry into the InterCity East Coast rail franchise.

The MPs said there are "serious questions" to be asked, adding that they will look at the best way forward, and the wider implications for the rail franchising system.

Earlier this month, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced that the Stagecoach-led franchise would only be able to continue in its current form for a "very small number of months".

When rail franchises are due to expire (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Lilian Greenwood, chairwoman of the committee, said: "This failure - not once, but three times - has drawn criticism from all corners.

"There are serious questions to be asked of the train operator, Network Rail and ministers, and the Transport Committee intends to ask them.

"The failure of the East Coast franchise has wider implications for rail franchising and the competitiveness of the current system.

"Lessons need to be learned by all concerned. In the meantime, the Department for Transport must take the right steps to protect passengers and taxpayers.

"Safeguards must be put in place to restore public confidence in the sustainability of our railways."

A Stagecoach Group spokesman said: "Virgin Trains East Coast is a well-run, profitable railway and we are continuing to meet our contractual commitments, as we have done throughout the past 21 years in operating train services on behalf of the government

"We are progressing our £140 million investment plans, topping franchise league tables for customer satisfaction and delivering 30% higher payments to the taxpayer than when the route was in public ownership, and we are happy to assist the work of the Transport Committee."

A Department for Transport official said: "The Transport Secretary has been clear over the issues facing the East Coast rail franchise and the next steps we will take to protect services for passengers.

"We will work with the Transport Select Committee on this inquiry."

Mick Cash, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said: "We are still demanding answers as to what is happening now and what the operational plans are for when Stagecoach/Virgin are finally kicked off the job, which Chris Grayling has already told the Commons is likely to happen in a matter of weeks.

"There are RMT members on the job today who have gone from British Rail, to GNER, to National Express, to Directly Operated Railways, to Virgin/Stagecoach and who are now left wondering who their sixth employer will be in little more than two decades on this vital section of Britain's rail network.

"That is a shameful way to treat the workforce and shines the spotlight on the continuing chaos of rail privatisation." 

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