Rail rush as Tories ‘expect defeat’

25 March 2013

Mick Whelan, ASLEF’s general secretary, says the rush to dish out rail franchises shows that the Tories are expecting a defeat at the 2015 general election. ‘They are announcing plans to hurry out ten franchises in the next two years. It is a victory for Conservative dogma over practical strategy.’

Mick says it is astonishing that the announcement has been made even though there is an active public debate over the way rail franchising should be implemented – and even if it should continue.

‘Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said he was going to review franchising but he is trapped by the weary anti-public dogma of the grey John Major years. Today’s announcement is a panic measure to prevent rail becoming a public service rather than a private milch cow.’

The rail minister is announcing an extension for Virgin Rail on the West Coast Main Line beyond the 2015 general election

Hiving off the East Coast Main Line (again, after National Express reneged on its £1.4bn contract for the route franchise deal in 2009 as the company was worried its profits might not be high enough). The government is anxious to prise the line away from the public service before it faces the electorate.

Mick said it was ‘almost, but not, funny’ that Mr McLoughlin said yesterday, ‘I think franchising has done a huge amount for the railway industry’. Mick says it has, in a way. ‘It has taken railway profits away from our industry and popped it into investor’s pockets,’ he says. ‘It has removed money that could have been invested in the future of rail. And it has cost the taxpayer millions in failed bids. So in a way it has done a huge amount!’

Mick says the Labour Party proposal to retain East Coast line in the public sector to act as a benchmark for privately-run franchises would at least be a move in the right direction. ‘It is a sign of the government’s total lack of confidence in their private friends that it will not tolerate a fair comparator,’ he says. He points out that the not-for-profit publicly-owned Directly Operated Railways has become one of Britain’s most profitable train operating companies which by the end of last 31 had returned £640m in premium payments to the government since it started operations in November 2009.

McLoughlin is also today spelling out ten of the 16 franchises scheduled to expire before the May 2015 general election.

‘In his desperation to hand out these franchises, he seems to be taking as his model the appalling Dr Beeching whose report was published fifty years ago on Wednesday,' Mick says.

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