Rail unions say new operators plan sweeping cuts to catering and ticketing staff on UK’s busiest service
RMT has warned of ‘a massive campaign to defend jobs and services on the West Coast route, including a ballot for industrial action, after transport giant, First Group secured a £5.5bn bid to run the West Coast InterCity franchise from London to Glasgow.
Virgin – which has held the franchise since privatisation in 1997 – bid £4.8m.
RMT says First Group won the bidding on the basis of 20% cuts across the board.
It says the bid contains ‘a billion pound black hole.’
The Department for Transport says it has awarded the franchise – which features its tilting ‘Pendolino’ trains from London, through the West Midlands, to the rail hub at Preston and on to Cumbria and Scotland – after First promised extra seats on trains and more investment in stations.
However, rail unions say up to 800 jobs could be at risk as catering and ticket staff are cut back to make more room for passengers on routinely crowded trains.
RMT general secretary, Bob Crow said: “RMT will work with MPs and communities along the West Coast route to stop the savage assault on staffing levels that we expect to be at the core of this new franchise arrangement.
“First pulled the pin on the Great Western route to dodge £800m in payments due to the British taxpayer and here they are, just months later, in control of the West Coast InterCity route.
“The highly political award of this contract turns the UK rail industry into a global laughing stock.”
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, warned that passengers would have to pay the price of First Group’s winning the bid.
“This crazy franchise lottery, where the highest bidder scoops the pot, means that passengers will have to pay inflation-busting fares increases on the busiest line in the UK for the next 14 years.
“That is the only way that First Group will be able to pay their annual £500 million premium to George Osborne as well as rewarding their shareholders with profits.
“We already pay the highest rail fares in Europe and this cock-eyed lottery means they will only go even higher in the future.
“We should take a leaf out of Europe’s book and run a not-for-profit, publicly owned railway which benefits the passenger and not private shareholders.”
Analysts have been sceptical that the new operator will be able to re-livery the rolling stock, re-hire and re-train staff by the time the new franchise begins, in December.
Passenger numbers on the west coast service are reported to have increased by 9% a year, from 13m in 1997 to 31m now.
Rail unions say the government should bring train services back into public ownership as franchises come up for renewal, rather than re-letting control to private operators.
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