Britain’s railways don’t need to be wholly nationalised or private. A mixed market will deliver the best deal for taxpayers and customers
I confess that I never expected, nor wanted, to share membership of an exclusive club of two with the transport secretary, Chris Grayling. And yet, as of yesterday’s extraordinary U-turn on what to do about the failing and over-extended east coast mainline, Grayling and I are the only living British politicians to have nationalised a railway.
In fact, we both nationalised the same railway. In 2009 I took the east coast mainline – which runs between London and Edinburgh and is a vital artery for the UK economy – back into public ownership. National Express, the private company that had been running east coast, wanted to hike prices and at the same time wriggle out of its obligations and debts to the government. It was a poor deal for fare-payers and taxpayers alike. So I took the railway away from a private company that was failing and created a new, public company to run it instead.