The companies running the East Coast Main Line (ECML) rail franchise from London to Scotland - Virgin and Stagecoach - are to lose it because they "got their sums wrong" according to Chris Grayling, the transport secretary. So now rail workers and passengers can only hope the current and prospective rail employers can count. This is setting the bar pretty high for rail bosses!
It's not the first time that private operators have walked away from the East Coast franchise, but the third! Two previous private operators failed to generate enough profit and the line was run as a publicly owned concern for a time, returning £1 billion in revenues to the exchequer.
Yet Grayling ploughs on with the failed private rail model. He plans to temporarily place ECML in public hands again pending another franchise battle. But will there be a battle? There were only two bids for the recent West Midlands franchise. It costs private firms millions of pounds just to meet legal requirements and submit a detailed bid.
There also seems to be inbuilt resistance to coordination with other operators or even Network Rail.
Workers on ECML complained in a survey conducted by the RMT transport union of the same problems, only worse, as on other franchises. "Staff morale rock bottom due to bad management"... "too many managers with no railway knowledge"... "by far the worst company to manage ECML"... are some of the workers' comments published by the RMT. The survey also found that 90% want public ownership.
Prospects for railworkers and passengers can improve on the basis of eliminating the so-called profit motive and returning the industry to public ownership with democratic control by workers and users along with planned and consistent investment in the infrastructure, the fleet and the workforce.
'Monday Mayhem' was the RMT transport union's description as commuters in the south east faced a chaotic start to the working week following the introduction of new timetables by privately owned (but publicly subsided) rail companies. Not content with axing safety-critical guards on their trains, and ramping up fares, profit-driven companies like GTR are accused of blatantly cutting train numbers and increasing journey times and overcrowding, while outrageously claiming the new timetables will 'improve services'. Nationalise rail now!