Regular passengers on the East Coast mainline are inured to change — and baffled as to why this transport artery cannot be run at a steady but modest profit by a private-sector operator. We recall with sadness the demise of GNER, the first post-privatisation franchisee from 1996 to 2007: part of the Sea Containers group that also owned the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, its service standards won passenger loyalty but it overbid for franchise renewal in 2005 and ran into losses; its parent went bust the following year.
Then we had to put up with back-to-basics National Express East Coast, which lasted barely two years before defaulting, followed by five years under a taxpayer-owned ‘operator of last resort’. In 2015 the franchise was re-let, this time to Virgin, though the operation is 90 per cent owned by Stagecoach, better known as a Scottish bus company. Now that too has failed and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is searching for yet another solution. A state-run entity is likely to take over within ‘a few months’. But I’m hoping it will involve the German state — whose Deutsche Bahn owns, through Arriva, many of Britain’s better trains — rather than another shuffling of the pack among our own incompetent rail bureaucrats.