02/04/2014 - East Coast Diamond Line brings big profits to taxpayer

eastcoasttrainUnder British Rail the East Coast line was nicknamed 'the Diamond line'. It is certainly living up to its name - the nationalised route reported more than £200 million in returns to the taxpayer.

Holding company Directly Operated Railways reported revenue of £208.7m last year from its sole charge East Coast. It went into public hands in 2009 when National Express became the second private company forced to drop the franchise after financial difficulties.

The result follows figures from the Department for Transport in May last year showing the taxpayer spent just half a penny in subsidies for every mile traveled on the East Coast Main Line.

Meanwhile the average rate of subsidies among its free-market rivals was 20 times that amount, subsiding 10 per cent of every passenger mile.

Public ownership of East Coast has improved journeys for passengers. The line achieved a 92% overall satisfaction rating in the Autumn 2012 Passenger Focus National Passenger Survey – the highest score on this franchise at any time since the survey was first launched in Autumn 1999. This score was three percentage points higher than the 89% average for all long distance train operators. East Coast was rated higher than the long distance operator average for 16 out of 19 measures. Passengers rated East Coast 13 points higher than the long distance average for how the operator deals with delays. The train operator won a national award, the Silver Whistle prize, for its provision of customer information at times of disruption.

Surely only a fool would advocate putting it back in private hands? Step forward ConDem Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin who has insisted on handing the lucrative route back to a private bidder before the 2015 general election, describing franchising as a "force for good."

Pat Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity, himself an ex-East Coast mainline worker said:

"Of course the Tories hate the example of East Coast. It shows that publicly owned railways can serve the public better than private ones. As the Tories want to put money in the hands of their rich friends through privatisation and large public subsidy this example is extremely inconvenient to them. East Coast has returned more money to the Treasury in the past three years than any other firm and it is costing taxpayers the least. We must oppose putting East Coast back in the private sector."