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Stagecoach: ‘Our plans offered good way forward, but we respect DfT decision’

Stagecoach’s chief executive, Martin Griffiths, argued the company’s plans to continue operating the East Coast franchise offered a “positive, value-for-money way forward for passengers” but assured that he respected the government’s decision to take over services.

His remarks come in response to Chris Grayling’s announcement that the failed East Coast franchise will be taken over by the DfT in June in order to smoothen the transition to a brand-new East Coast Partnership, which will operate as a public-private partnership similar to South Eastern.

“We believe our plans offered a positive, value-for-money way forward for passengers, taxpayers and local communities, ensuring the continuation of the exciting transformation already under way on East Coast and a smooth transition to the government’s new East Coast Partnership,” explained Griffiths.

“However, we respect the government’s decision.”

The transport secretary’s announcement was unprecedented for the industry, with many expecting him to allow Stagecoach to continue running services under a not-for-profit agreement.

The DfT team will take over once the current contract terminates on 24 June, and will work closely with Network Rail to ensure a smooth transition to the new East Coast Partnership – operating under the brand-new London North Eastern Railway brand.

In a statement, a Network Rail spokesperson said: “We will continue to work closely with the DfT and rail operators to make sure we continue to offer the best possible service to passengers and freight companies during the transition period and as we move into the new public-private partnership.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell MP, said it was good to see Grayling implementing his party’s manifesto pledge to renationalise the railways.

“I think I’m right in saying that he’s now nationalised more railways than any Labour minister in six decades. Come on Chris, East Coast line today, the whole system tomorrow,” he tweeted, jokingly.

Greens co-leader Caroline Lucas agreed that scrapping the East Coast franchise should mark the “beginning of the end for the privatisation experiment on our railways,” asking: “If public ownership is good enough for this line, then why not the rest of the network?”

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake also shared similar frustrations, claiming in a statement that public operation can deliver “real improvements” to services. “However the end of yet another private sector franchise will bring no joy to passengers or businesses in Leeds,” she added. “It’s a significant setback to improvements promised at the start of the Virgin/Stagecoach franchise and we need urgent clarification that those improvements will still be delivered under the new arrangement.”

In his statement to the Commons, however, Grayling sang the praises of privatisation, arguing that passenger numbers have doubled since it left public hands, with new trains and technology rolled out across the network and innovation driving up customer satisfaction.

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