Government launches franchising process of East Coast Mainline

On Friday the government launched the franchising process for the East Coast Main Line.

Financial information about the line has now been released and the criteria for interested parties, as well as risks associated with the line, which was nationalised in 2009 due to financial problems. It will be returned to the private sector by February 2015.

Transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin said:

We want to see a revitalised East Coast railway, one that both rekindles the spirit of competition for customers on this great route and competes with the West Coast on speed, quality and customer service.

The move has been bitterly opposed by the Labour party and rail unions who have accused the government of being ideologically motivated in the drive to re-privatise the line. Labour cites the previous failures of commercial operators and the recent stabilisation of the line as reasons to keep the East Coast Mainline in public ownership.

The state-run line recently returned £200m to the taxpayer due to an increase in revenues. Labour has gone so far as to suggest it would re-nationalise the railways.

Speaking to the Financial Times, shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said:

We want a model that is going to work. What is interesting is that we have foreign state-owned railways running our services and investing money back into their own networks.

If it works as a model for them, why can't it work as a model for the UK?

Eurostar is already bidding to operate the line jointly with French energy company Keolis.