POLITICS
25/10/2013 06:25 BST

Labour 'Open' To Renationalising Railways

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MP Mary Creagh, shadow secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stands outside the department in London on February 9, 2013, following a meeting between the government, food retailers and the Food Standards Authority (FSA) after horsemeat was found in beef ready meals. Britain held emergency talks about horsemeat found in beef ready meals amid confusion over the origin of the meat in a food scandal that has spread to several other European countries. AFP PHOTO/WILL OLIVER

Labour's new shadow transport secretary said she was "open" to the idea of renationalising the rail network as the government set out plans to return the East Coast Main Line to the private sector.

Mary Creagh said it was "interesting" that foreign state-owned railways including Germany's Deutsche Bahn, France's SNCF and Holland's Nederlandse Spoorwegen, were involved in firms running the UK's network and using the money generated to improve services in their home countries.

A review of Labour's railway policy will be launched within a year, Creagh said, which would not "rule anything out" including wholesale renationalisation.

Labour would be "pragmatic" in its approach in contrast to the "ideological" privatisation of the East Coast franchise, Creagh, who took over the transport portfolio earlier this month, said.

Asked in a Financial Times interview if taking the network back into public ownership was an option Creagh said: "We're open to ideas. We don't rule anything out."

She added: "We want a model that is going to work. What's interesting is that we have (foreign) state-owned railways running our services and investing money back into their networks ... If it works as a model for them, why can't it work as a model for the UK?"

Creagh's comments echo those made by her predecessor in the job, Maria Eagle, who told The Huffington Post UK last month that Labour spied an "opportunity" post-2015 to run lines on a "not for private profit basis".

The franchises for the Northern, Great Western, Greater Anglia, West Coast, London Midland, East Midlands, South Eastern, South West and Cross Country lines are all due to expire between 2015 and 2020.

"It’s now quite clear every inter-city franchise is going to come up during the next parliament," she said. "That does present a real opportunity for the next government to take a less ideological approach to what happens when those contracts come to an end and do what works."

Today the government said passengers would have a better travelling experience when the East Coast Main Line goes back into the private sector. It has been run under the control of the Department for Transport (DfT) since National Express pulled out of the franchise in November 2009.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "We want to see a revitalised East Coast railway, one that both rekindles the spirit of competition for customers on this great route to Scotland and competes with the West Coast on speed, quality and customer service."

But Labour has been unhappy at what it sees as the haste by the government to get the line back into private hands even though the whole nationwide franchise programme has been put back and altered following the West Coast bidding process fiasco.

The suggestion that Labour might renationalise the entire rail network comes as the party showed it is not afraid of intervening in markets, such as energy, where it feels the public is not being best served.

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