MPs slam railway franchise structure

THE Transport Select Committee branded the railway franchise system &ldquo;a mess&rdquo; yesterday, calling for massive reforms on the lines, and for the nationalisation of the troubled East Coast mainline.<br /><br />The cross-party group of MPs said it wants the East Coast mainline &ndash; which is set to taken away from operator National Express later this year by the government &ndash; to be publicly owned and used to compare against private companies&rsquo; performances.<br /><br />&ldquo;There is no point involving the private sector if companies can cream off the profits in good times, but leave passengers and taxpayers to pick up the bill when hard times hit,&rdquo; committee chair Louise Ellman said.<br /><br />&ldquo;I am considering reforms to improve the rail franchising system, including longer franchises and a reform of the special purpose vehicle model for managing individual rail businesses,&rdquo; transport secretary Lord Adonis said in response to the report, which describes the rail network as a &ldquo;muddle&rdquo;.<br /><br />But Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT transport union, said renationalisation was the only way forward. <br /><br />&ldquo;The franchise mess is beyond reform and that the only real solution is a return to public ownership of our railways,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />The franchise system, which lets train operators such as FirstGroup and National Express negotiate a contract with the Department of Transport to run trains on various routes, means that passengers are taken for granted, the report said. <br /><br />It accused the industry of hitting commuters with above-inflation ticket-price rises of up to 11 per cent in the middle of the recession.<br /><br />The news comes weeks after National Express admitted it could not afford to pay the government the &pound;1.4bn it was contracted to by 2015.