Going off the rails again

You might recall the long sorry saga of how letting private companies run the East Coast rail service didn’t work out too well. In 2006, GNER ran into the slight problem of not being able to pay the huge amount of money they’d promised to the government, and ended up giving up the contract. Undaunted, the government of the time handed the contract over to National Express, who a couple of years later found that they couldn’t pay the huge amount of money they’d promised to the government and ended up giving up the contract.

But this was 2009, when the economy was still melting, and it didn’t seem like a good idea to find another operator to lie about how much money they’d be able to pay for the lucrative contract. And so, the service has been run since then by a state-owned enterprise. And would you believe it? Passenger numbers and perhaps more importantly, passenger satisfaction are up. Reliability has improved. Lots of money is being paid into the government. All in all, the way the East Coast line has been run makes most of the rail network look like the idiotic mess it is.

But this situation could not be allowed to continue, could it? Everyone knows that public sector is bad and private sector is good[1], so despite the success of the service, it was put out to tender again, and it’s been awarded to a consortium of Stagecoach and Virgin, who have promised to pay billions of pounds into the government. Haven’t we heard that before? Where’s that money going to come from? Will it actually be paid?

The government’s announcement talks about how the service will be improved by new trains, implying that these have something to do with the franchise holder, which is not strictly accurate[2]. The trains had already been ordered, and would have been used by whoever was going to be running the service.

I give it the usual two years from them repainting the existing trains to realising that they’ve offered far more than they can pay.

BBC News – Stagecoach and Virgin win East Coast mainline rail franchise.

[1] For an arbitrarily “brain dead politicians” value of “everyone”
[2] For an arbitrarily “big fat lie” value of “not strictly accurate”