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East Coast rail line becomes privately run

East Coast: now privately run Credit: Martin Keene/PA Wire

The East Coast rail line becomes privately run from today after more than five years in the public sector.

The route which links London with Edinburgh and runs through Lincolnshire, South and North Yorkshire, had been operated by the Department for Transport. since 2009. But it has now been jointly taken over by Virgin and Stagecoach.

Protests were held yesterday, including one in Doncaster, by the RMT union, which has described the handover as an "act of gross national betrayal of the British people".

A Department for Transport spokesman said they were confident that the new East Coast franchise gave the best deal for passengers - providing more seats, more services, new trains and over £140 million of investment along the route.

The skills and experience that the private sector provides drives forward innovation and investment, and has helped to transform our rail network into a real success story.

– Department of Transport spokesman

Shadow Transport Secretary Michael Dugher said the ending of the state-run East Coast company was "a hammer blow for passengers, taxpayers and employees alike".

David Cameron's ideological sell-off has ended a public sector service which has delivered over £1 billion to the Treasury, kept fares down, had record passenger satisfaction and engaged the workforce with unparalleled success. It is clear that when it comes to transport, people have a straight choice - the status quo or Labour's better plan. Labour will start the process of legislating in the first 100 days of a new parliament to allow a public sector operator to be able to take on lines and challenge the private sector on a genuinely level playing field.

– Shadow Transport Secretary Michael Dugher

RMT protest over privatisation of East Coast

A leading rail union is staging a a series of protests including one in Doncaster to mark the final day of a train company being run in the public sector.

RMT protest in Doncaster

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has organised demonstrations along the East Coast Main Line today, including London, Doncaster and Edinburgh. The union is opposed to the franchise being switched to private operators Virgin and Stagecoach.

Six years ago the East Coast Main Line collapsed into chaos when National Express threw the keys back because they couldn't extract enough profit. That followed an earlier spectacular private sector failure on the line when Sea Containers went bust. It was left to the public sector to not only rescue this vital north-south rail link from total meltdown but to turn around its performance and to start handing hundreds of millions of pounds back to the taxpayer in contrast to the rip-off private companies. This weekend, in an act of gross national betrayal of the British people that will cost us dear, the route is being handed over to Virgin/Stagecoach to be run again solely in the interests of private profit, taking a third gamble after the two previous corporate failures. This re-privatisation is based on pure, hard-right, Thatcherite ideology and is an act of industrial vandalism that will smash apart Britain's most successful rail company for just one reason - it is publicly owned. On Saturday RMT will mark this latest scandal on Britain's privatised railways and the union will renew the fight to return the entire network to public ownership - a policy supported by 70% of the British people.

– Mick Cash, General Secretary RMT

Virgin, who will in part take over running of the franchise say passengers will get "new services, faster and more frequent journeys." Richard Branson's company argue the taxpayer will benefit from the privatisation.

Announcing the deal in December, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:

This is a fantastic deal which will give passengers on this vital route more seats, more services and new trains, and give British taxpayers outstanding value for money.

– Patrick McLoughlin, Transport Secretary

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Matt Price reports

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