Wednesday, 1 July 2009
National Express' East Coast rail franchise has been taken back into public ownership.
National Express took over the old GNER franchise in 2007, to provide the rail services on the East Coast route. This includes Leeds, Hull, York, Newcastle - it's quite important. Now, GNER were actually providing a decent service, but the parent company ran out of cash. So up popped National Express. A company renowned for its excellent road-going coach service, but with limited rail experience - if you want to see what passengers think of their East Anglia franchise, look here. It's not nice reading.
I've used NXEC services, although infrequently. When I was finishing work at 7.30, there was a Trans-Pennine Express service from Leeds at 19:38, but the next one was not until 20:05. However, if I got the NXEC service which left 2 minutes later, I could change at Doncaster and still get home earlier than if I waited around in Leeds station for an hour and a half. To be fair, the trains weren't bad. Clean. Quiet. Loads of luggage space. At least, the electric trains to Kings Cross were, I have heard some bad stories of the old diesel services being poor.
But, the ones I went on were generally only 20% full. And no-one ever, ever, checked my ticket. I guess the guard just couldn't be bothered walking down 8 carriages of people to do this. Perhaps this explains why the service isn't making any money. Or, maybe it's because (and I've just checked this on the NXEC website) the cost of a return to London from Leeds, is between £84 and £223 (ouch!), if you don't book ahead. I could drive a car full of people there myself for about £50. I know, I've done it!
The other reason they are probably doing so badly is legacy services. For example. In the bad old days, there was one direct service from Hull to London in the morning, and one return service in the evening. Hull Trains changed all that by putting on a decent, regular, reliable service, which all but made the old NXEC trains redundant. Another example, in Harrogate I can get an NXEC train to London direct. But there isn't a service that goes all the way back. At all. So if I'm going to London, I might as well change at Leeds. If NXEC were allowed to scrap these types of service, and concentrate on providing a regular service between London and Leeds/Edinburgh, they'd save a fortune and allow other operators to take over these routes, operators who can, and do, make money on them and run them properly.
Now personally, I'd wouldn't have privatised the rail industry. I believe public transport is the responsibility of Government, as part of a national strategy that includes roads, rail, canals, planes, buses and the like. I believe that's the only way we can we sort out the awful mess that our transport network is in. But that's not going to happen. So, my suggestion would be plan B, which is to allow First Group to take over, as they have already tried to do. The reason being, First Group run the Hull Trains franchise, which I've used and is pretty good. They also run the Trans-Pennine Express franchise. Which I regularly used between Selby and Leeds. And, which was pretty good. So they've got the experience, and the services are good. They also own large chunks of the network anyway, including the west coast routes, which would reduce the confusing array of companies all wanting to transport me on the railways when actually, I just want to get from A to B.
We'll see. In the meantime, I'll take the bus.