The ECML threatens another private venture; good news for the UK Taxpayers perhaps?
Yet again we hear excuses that its all Network Rail’s fault, as Stagecoach announced today that they have set aside £84m to cover the operating costs of the East Coast franchise it runs with Virgin. Other reasons cited for their woeful performance include Brexit and Terrorism, which apparently have affected their ability to attract more customers. They have admitted that in hindsight they paid too much for the contract (£3bn), and having spent £140m on refurbishments of train interiors and station facilities, no doubt egged on by Virgin who always want to appear glitzy, they want to re-negotiate the terms of the franchise!
I am a regular traveller on the ECML, and I know that since Virgin/Stagecoach took over the franchise the price of my advanced tickets have increased by nearly 25%, on average, for the same journeys. First Class Advanced fares have increased by even more, no doubt to recoup the cost of the new leather seats; but the service itself hasn’t changed much. Is it any wonder, then, that the public are travelling by other means, or using other operators that Virgin/Stagecoach are so keen to prevent running at all. Privatisation is supposed to bring competition, but not on the railways it seems.
As well as Network Rail, they have also blamed a “delay” on the introduction of the new Azuma trains, yet by all accounts (DfT), work is progressing well with these and more can be seen at the Doncaster Carr depot almost on a weekly basis. I am yet to understand how the new trains will help increase their revenues. The current trains are generally clean and comfortable, so will brand new trains really make a difference? Remember, it was Virgin who brought one of the worst and most uncomfortable trains to the UK with the Voyagers…….
Surely the time has come for a complete re-think on the railway franchise system? I’m not sure re-nationlisation would work without a significant increase in funding, but then I would rather put the money from HS2 into the whole network. HS2, like Crossrail, is just to get commuters into London; do they really think that us in ‘the North’ will be falling over ourselves to travel to London in half the time, only to waste all of the gained time on getting to and from an HS2 station at either end of the journey?
The next few months will see whether Virgin/Stagecoach can re-negotiate the franchise deal, probably at the expense of promised services; but maybe, just maybe, another failed ECML operator will yield a properly funded and properly organised UK rail system in the future!
Could we also get another livery on the HSTs before they get sent to Scotland, and maybe the scrap yard?