A major London-to-Scotland rail route becomes privately run again today after more than five years in the public sector.
Operated by a company under the control of the Department for Transport since November 2009, the East Coast line has now been taken over by a joint venture involving Virgin and Stagecoach.
Under the new name Virgin Trains East Coast, the franchise's first service today is the 7.55am Newcastle to London, while the first northbound train will leave King's Cross station in London heading for Aberdeen at 8.45am. Words: PA
The Labour government stepped in to run the line when franchise holder National Express pulled out in November 2009, but it was always the intention of the coalition Government to return the line to the private sector.
The Department for Transport said it was confident that the new franchise was the best way forward, but trade unions have pointed to the huge sums the publicly owned line has been able to return to the Treasury.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said today: "It is disappointing to see East Coast in private hands after five years of public sector success. The Government's decision to re-privatise the line is a costly mistake.
Yesterday, the RMT transport union organised demonstrations along the line in a protest against its re-privatisation.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the move was "based on pure, hard-right, Thatcherite ideology" and was "an act of industrial vandalism".
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The skills and experience that the private sector provides drives forward innovation and investment, and has helped to transform our rail network into a real success story.
"We are confident that the new East Coast franchise gives the best deal for passengers. It will provide more seats, more services, new trains and over £140 million of investment along the route. In addition, more than £3 billion will be paid to taxpayers."
Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said the ending of the state-run East Coast company was "a hammer blow for passengers, taxpayers and employees alike".
He went on: "David Cameron's ideological sell-off has ended a public sector service which has delivered over £1 billion to the Treasury, kept fares down, had record passenger satisfaction and engaged the workforce with unparalleled success.
"It is clear that when it comes to transport, people have a straight choice - the status quo or Labour's better plan. Labour will start the process of legislating in the first 100 days of a new parliament to allow a public sector operator to be able to take on lines and challenge the private sector on a genuinely level playing field."
Mr Dugher added: "Labour will also hold a speedy review of rail franchising to replace it with a system fit for purpose and create a strong passenger voice within a new strategic body for running the railways."
A Conservative spokesman said: "The new East Coast franchise is good news for both passengers and taxpayers. It will provide more seats, services and better value for money. This Government has put quality at the heart of the franchising process.
"Labour's woolly ideas of renationalisation would create chaos on infrastructure that is so vital to passengers and our economy.
"As part of our long term economic plan we are investing a record £38 billion in our railways. Labour are yet to set out how this funding would be affected by their intention to be both player and referee."
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