By James Scott
The government has announced it will reclaim the east coast line from London to Edinburgh after National Express decided to give up the franchise.
National Express who has owned the rights to the route for over two years decided to cut its losses after reported debts of over £1bn.
This has led to fresh talks about the future of privatisation in this sector. Christian Wolmar a leading train and transport correspondent said, ” If National Express goes to the government, it will not get more money but it may be allowed to go over to a management contract.
“But if that happens, there will be queue at the door for similar arrangements from the other franchisees. That will mean the effective collapse of the franchising system. Clearly new franchises will no longer be able to be let on the basis of private companies taking the revenue risk, which negates much of the point of the whole system.”
Nationalisation of the train network began during World War II and during the mid 60’s was split into the big four. This included British rail but in 1994 under the Major government the railway sector was privatised.
But it has not been plain sailing and disasters such as Hatfield and Paddington crashes were two major blows to the crediblity of the privatised railway sector.
In the years since much of the sector has went back into government hands with the most prominent takeover being Railtrack in 2002.
The failure of National Express has led to calls for more nationalisation sooner rather than later. Aslef the trade union for train drivers have urged the government to strip national express of its remaining c2c and East Anglia franchises.
A spokesperson said: ” National Express should not be able to keep those lines which are profitable and walk away from those that are not.”
A spokesman for National Express confirmed that ownership of east coast lines would fall into public hands.
The spokesperson said, “As of 23.59 tonight ownership will go to Directly operated railways, there will be no changes to timetables or any staff changes.”
The history of British railways has never been defined as stable. Since its birth nearly 150 years ago its has seen dozens of companies merge, split, go bankrupt, be nationalised, privatised and then renationalised.
The outcome of these new developments will hopefully bring more cohesion, but with the government planning to auction the route in 2011 the future of British railway lines is still uncertain.