Ipswich/Suffolk: Rail ownership questions fuel new political row
09:19 13 May 2014
A new political row has blown up over the future of the region’s rail services after Labour said it was to look again at bringing the industry back into public ownership.
Ipswich’s Conservative MP Ben Gummer, who is one of leaders of the task force aiming to improve services, said any review would put back the award of a new rail franchise for the region – currently due in 2016 – which would in turn delay the introduction of new trains.
He also doubted whether Labour would have the money to spend on new rail infrastructure because it had made so many pledges to boost welfare spending.
Plans for a long-term rail franchise for the region have already been put off twice.
A long-term franchise had been due to be start in 2012, but this was cancelled after National Express walked away from the East Coast franchise in 2009, prompting the government to review how it awarded contracts.
The new franchise that started then should have run out in July this year, but it was extended until October 2016 after the Department for Transport began another review after the West Coast contract shambles when Virgin Trains lost its franchise and then saw the decision reversed because of faults with the process.
The new franchise will be for up to 10 years, and bidders will have to outline plans to introduce new, or heavily refurbished, trains.
However it will take at least three years for any new trains to be introduced – so the earliest they would come into service would be 2019 and the whole fleet would be unlikely to be complete until 2021.
Mr Gummer said: “If there’s a review, the franchise process would be put again, just as we are getting the government to back really fundamental improvements to our rail services.
“That will take until 2020 or 2021 to really come through as it is – so any further delay will put it further into the next decade.
“I have to say, though, that I doubt whether an incoming Labour government will find any money to invest in the region’s infrastructure because they are committing so much money to promises on benefits that there won’t be any left!”
Labour’s Shadow Transport Spokeswoman Mary Creagh could give no firm assurances about Labour’s attitude to infrastructure investment when we sent an e-mail asking about the party’s attitude to the rail service in the region.
We asked her: Does the announcement of a Labour review of the ownership of rail operators mean the start of this long-term franchise will be put off yet again? Will passengers in East Anglia have to suffer from short-term decisions yet again?
She said: “Services between Norwich and London are too slow and the trains are outdated. The Government’s warm words won’t upgrade the line.
“It will need investment in track and trains in a co-ordinated fashion, something that this government has failed at spectacularly in other areas, upgrading lines but having no trains to run on them which is what has happened in the north.
“Over the last three years David Cameron has failed to stand up for working people, allowing train companies to hit passengers with inflation busting fare rises of up to nine per cent. A future Labour Government would implement a strict cap on fare rises across all routes.
“The Government’s botched West Coast franchise fiasco has cost taxpayers over £50m and caused delays to other franchises, including Greater Anglia. Passengers and taxpayers are picking up the tab for the rail franchising chaos the Government has created.
“Labour understands the concerns of hard pressed East Anglian passengers and a Labour Government will deliver a long term strategic plan to bring stability to our railways.”