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Rail's Second Chance in East Coast Main Line debate

    Yesterday Parliament debated the East Coast Main Line. Many Labour MPs used the success of the ECML as an opportunity to advance their re-nationalisation agenda and attack privatisation. They did not acknowledge the findings of our report "Rail's Second Chance" that the ECML is one the few lines in the country to allow on-track open access competition for smaller operators, and this is pushing up standards of service. These services are highly praised, and yet again this week First Hull has been named top of a national passenger satisfaction survey:

    Source: Passenger Focus (image City AM)

    Not all MPs ignored such important information. Stewart Jackson MP has clearly been paying attention: 

    "I will finish my remarks by talking a little about competition and open access. I welcome the consultation paper that was published this month, “On-rail competition: Consultation on options for change in open access”. Open access is an important issue that we need to look at. The east coast main line is a good example of open access. It has brought significant benefits to parts of the network. Only a small part of the passenger rail network is open to competitive pressures. On the east coast main line, two non-subsidised open access operators, Grand Central Trains and First Hull Trains, compete with the franchiser. They have shown that competition leads to more journeys, higher revenues for the train companies, lower fares, and more and happier passengers.

    The Centre for Policy Studies publication in March showed that passenger journeys increased by 42% at stations that enjoy rail competition, compared with 27% at those without it; that revenue increased by 57% at those with competition, against 48% at those without it; and that average fares increased by only 11% at stations with competition, compared with 17% at stations without it. So the franchise holder faces competition and still pays an increased premium to the Government, as East Coast has done. Open access competition has led to more routes and more high-speed access to new locations, including in London.

    As a one nation Conservative—I suppose we are all one nation now, whether one nation Labour or one nation Conservative—I think that it is important that we have good transport infrastructure to places such as Sunderland, Hartlepool, Halifax, Hull and Bradford. All those places have seen a significant boost to their economic footprint and their direct access to markets. In the course of the public consultation on open access, we need to consider the benefits to local economies and, ultimately, to the taxpayer. Hitherto, the Office of Rail Regulation and the Department for Transport have set their face against open access and have been inflexible in the design of the franchise regime."

    Excellent points raised by Mr Jackson, though on his last, hopefully we are about to see some change there

    You can see Stewart Jackson MP's remarks at 14.51 of yesterday's ParliamentTV:


    Also watch our animated summary of "Rail's Second Chance": 

    Tony Lodge is a political and energy analyst. He is a former Editor of the European Journal and a former Chief of Staff to the Shadow Attorney General and Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. He has written regularly in the national and international media and appeared on national TV and radio covering energy policy issues.

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