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Railways MPs begin probe into East Coast rail franchise failure

A COMMITTEE of MPs has launched an inquiry into the failure of the East Coast rail franchise.

Earlier this month, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced that the Stagecoach-led Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) franchise would only be able to continue in its current form for a “very small number of months.”

Chairwoman of the transport committee Lilian Greenwood said: “This failure — not once, but three times — has drawn criticism from all corners.

“There are serious questions to be asked of the train operator, Network Rail and ministers, and the transport committee intends to ask them.

“The failure of the East Coast franchise has wider implications for rail franchising and the competitiveness of the current system.”

In December, after the operator complained it was proving too costly to run, ministers announced that the franchise would be ended three years early.

Labour condemned the arrangement as a “bailout” that would effectively offer the company relief of up to £2 billion. The company will get out of making the biggest premium payments to the government, which were weighted towards the end of the contract.

Two previous operators of the route, GNER and National Express East Coast, also handed back the keys after their own failures.

Stagecoach said VTEC was a “well-run, profitable railway” which was “continuing to meet our contractual commitments.”

But rail union RMT’s general secretary Mick Cash said: “We are still demanding answers as to what is happening now and what the operational plans are for when Stagecoach-Virgin are finally kicked off the job, which Chris Grayling has already told the Commons is likely to happen in a matter of weeks.”

He said some workers were “now left wondering who their sixth employer will be in little more than two decades” and that this was “shameful.”

A Department for Transport official said: “The Transport Secretary has been clear over the issues facing the East Coast rail franchise and the next steps we will take to protect services for passengers.

“We will work with the transport select committee on this inquiry.”

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