Rail: Labour 'Open To Renationalising Network'
Labour's new shadow transport secretary says she is "open" to the idea of renationalising Britain's rail network, as the Government set out plans to return the East Coast Main Line to the private sector.
The London-to-Scotland line has been run under the control of the Department for Transport (DfT) since National Express pulled out of the franchise in November 2009.
Labour and rail unions have bitterly opposed the reprivatisation of the line, pointing to the fact that East Coast has returned large amounts of money to the Treasury since it has been in the public sector.
Labour has also been unhappy at what it sees as the haste by the Government to get the East Coast line back into private hands even though the whole nationwide franchise programme has been put back and altered following a fiasco over the West Coast bidding process.
Mary Creagh, who took over transport portfolio earlier this month, said Labour would be "pragmatic" in its approach, in contrast to the "ideological" privatisation of the East Coast franchise.
Asked if taking the network back into public ownership was an option, Ms Creagh told the Financial Times: "We're open to ideas. We don't rule anything out."
Ms Creagh also said it was "interesting" that foreign state-owned railways, including Germany's Deutsche Bahn, France's SNCF and Holland's Nederlandse Spoorwegen, were involved in firms running the UK's network and using the money generated to improve services in their home countries.
She said: "We want a model that is going to work. What's interesting is that we have (foreign) state-owned railways running our services and investing money back into their networks ... If it works as a model for them, why can't it work as a model for the UK?"
The Government officially launched the search for a new East Coast Main Line operator by publishing a prospectus.
Bidders for the key long-distance rail route will have to offer passengers "innovative timetables" and a better travelling experience.
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 to Scotland and competes with the West Coast on speed, quality and customer service."
Eurostar and Virgin are reportedly among those interested in buying the line.
The DfT plans to confirm which prospective bidders have passed the pre-qualification stage in January.