The Commons Transport Committee is launching an inquiry into the imminent failure of the East Coast rail franchise.
Last week transport secretary Chris Grayling announced that the franchise, which has been operated by Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) since March 2015, was likely to fail within ‘a very small number of months’.
Lilian Greenwood MP
MPs pointed out that this will be the third collapse of a franchise on this part of the railway in just over 10 years.
Committee chair Lilian Greenwood MP said: ‘This failure – not once, but three times – has drawn criticism from all corners.
‘There are serious questions to be asked of the train operator, Network Rail and Ministers and the Transport Committee intends to ask them. The failure of the East Coast franchise has wider implications for rail franchising and the competitiveness of the current system. Lessons need to be learned by all concerned.
‘In the meantime, the Department for Transport must take the right steps to protect passengers and taxpayers. Safeguards must be put in place to restore public confidence in the sustainability of our railways.’
The inquiry will examine the lessons to be learned from this and previous franchise failures on this part of the network; the best way forward in the short and longer term; and the wider implications for the rail franchising system.
It said that among the issues it particularly wants to addressing are:
- the reasons for the failure of the current franchise agreement, lessons learnt from previous failures of franchises on the East Coast Mainline and the steps the Department for Transport (DfT) needs to take to guard against future failures
- the management of infrastructure works on the East Coast Mainline, including the relationships between the Department’s aspirations for the franchise, the operators’ obligations in the franchise agreement and planned Network Rail infrastructure works
Mr Grayling controversially announced in the Autumn that the current contract was unlikely to run its full course to 2023 but would be replaced from 2020 by a new type of public/private agreement bringing together Network Rail and a private train operator as the East Coast Partnership.
He told MPs last week that the Government is considering two options to manage the franchise in the meantime – either for the DfT to run it through an Operator of Last Resort or for Stagecoach to continue to operate services ‘under a very strictly designed and short-term arrangement’, on a not-for-profit basis.