CALLS have been made for the East Coast mainline to be permanently brought back under Government control.

The Bradford Green Party has hit out at the companies running the franchise, accusing Virgin and Stagecoach of “walking away” from the deal. 

The East Coast mainline, Britain’s fastest railway route, connects a number of stations in the Bradford district – including Forster Square, Keighley, Shipley and Bingley – to London.

The franchise was re-privatised when Stagecoach and Virgin originally signed a deal to run the East Coast line from 2015 to 2023, agreeing to pay the Government £3.3 billion to run the service. 

In November, the Department for Transport confirmed controversial plans to prematurely end the franchise contract three years early, with a new East Coast Partnership taking on responsibility after 2020. 

The franchise has a chequered history. Both GNER and National Express handed back the contract after baulking at franchise payment costs. In 2009 the line had to be taken back into public ownership for a time before Stagecoach and Virgin mounted a joint bid.

But earlier this month, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced the Stagecoach-led franchise would only be able to continue in its current form for a “very small number of months”.

Matt Edwards, Campaign Coordinator for the Bradford Green Party, said: “Yet again, it is the rail users who are being short- changed by the mismanagement of our railways. For purely ideological reasons, the Conservatives privatised it again in 2015 allowing private companies, backed by two of the richest people in our country, to run it. Less than three years later they have walked away from the deal leaving all of us short changed by nearly £2 billion.”

“What makes this even worse, is that it is rumoured that Stagecoach are lining up to bid on the franchise again if it becomes available. The Conservatives are continuing to reward big business for failure.”

A Stagecoach Group spokesman said the claims were “completely untrue” and it had neither walked away from the franchise nor asked for, or received, special treatment. 

The spokesman added: “Virgin Trains East Coast is a well-run, profitable railway and we are continuing to meet our contractual commitments, as we have done throughout the past 21 years in operating train services on behalf of the government.”

He said Stagecoach is “fully committed” to working with Government to deliver a fleet of new state-of-the-art trains and helping the transition to the planned East Coast Partnership.

 A DfT spokesperson said: “Privatisation has helped transform our railways – driving competition, customer service excellence and new private investment totalling £5.6 billion over the last 10 years.

“The current East Coast franchise has been paying 20 per cent more on average to the Government than when the line was directly operated before 2015. In less than three years it has returned nearly £1bn to the taxpayer while delivering satisfaction rates of more than 90 per cent."

The Transport Committee is now to probe the deal. MPs said there are “serious questions” to be asked, adding that they will look at the best way forward, and the wider implications.