David Parkin considers the future of the East Coast railway

SO the East Coast Main Line will be run from next year by Stagecoach and Virgin.

Even though the new consortium behind Inter City Railways has promised to invest £140m in new trains and services, station improvements and faster journey times, it is strange to view this with mixed feelings.

I’m not a regular traveller to London but those that are tell me the current East Coast service, running the franchise on behalf of the government, does a good job – and it makes money.

And whilst Stagecoach and Virgin will pay £3.3bn over eight years to run the franchise which links London with Scotland via Yorkshire, the Exchequer’s coffers would be boosted by keeping the franchise in government hands.

But as someone pointed out to me, that might be the sensible solution but it flies in the face of Conservative politicians’ ideology about the state owning assets which can be run by the private sector.

John Sutcliffe, finance director at Yorkshire property developer Henry Boot, made an interesting point to me on the subject.

John was moved to comment by the news that the franchise winners will invest £140m in the business and pay the Government £3.3bn over the eight year contract.

“If the £3.3bn is for the use of the rail track maybe, just maybe I can I understand that fee. However, if it is a pure ‘tax fee’ it ought to be the other way round! Let them invest £3.3bn in the trains and route and pay the Government the corporation tax on the profits they make.

“It must be twenty five years since we got new stock and the trains are decidedly past their best especially when one considers the cost of a ticket,” pointed out John with the blunt common sense that only a finance director from Yorkshire can.

It does seem bizarre that at a time when most people have accepted the multi-billions that need to be invested in HS2 which is 20-odd years away, we have to accept crumbs to put sticking plaster on the creaking existing rail system.

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