Jan 7, 2018

Virgin’s bailout damages the case for private rail ownership

The billionaire will not have relished his coverage over the past week, in which he has been berated for receiving a multimillion-pound bailout for his struggling East Coast rail franchise. It is a reminder of the challenges facing Britain's rail franchising system, under which private operators run train services across what remains a state-owned track network. The government has now stepped in, kindly offering to mop up the red ink and cancel the franchise contract three years early. Transport secretary Chris Grayling insists it's not a bailout, despite the fact that his intervention will spare Virgin the agony of writing the £2bn cheque it had promised over the final punchiest leg of the franchise. Where this happens, complaints should be transparently dealt with and not, as with Mr Grayling, implausibly gussied up as some newfangled policy initiative where he intends to retender the franchise as an unspecified "Public-private partnership" with closer links to Network Rail.

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