Winsor intervenes in East Coast row

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The rail regulator Chris Bolt will today be urged by his predecessor to resist attempts by Whitehall to undermine his independence or face the "renationalisation" of the industry.

In an article for Rail Professional magazine, Tom Winsor, who has now returned to practise law in the City, says the regulator should stand firm in the controversy over the East Coast mainline franchise.

Mr Bolt has come under fire from ministers and from Great North Eastern Railways (GNER) for allowing fresh competition on its route, thus undermining the company's ability to pay the Exchequer £1.3bn over the next 10 years.

In a separate piece in Rail magazine, Christopher Garnett, the chief executive of GNER, denounces the regulator as "stupid, arrogant and incompetent" for denying his company additional services and awarding capacity instead to the fledgling operator Grand Central, which is set to run services from London King's Cross to Sunderland. Mr Garnett is threatening to take the regulator to court.

Mr Winsor says the current regulator should resist pressure to undermine his ability to award access to the rail network to smaller operators, saying there has always been tension over this with officials at the Department for Transport which awards franchises.

He warned encroachment on the jurisdiction of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) would "set off serious alarms about the incremental renationalisation of the railway". He urges Mr Bolt "not to flinch" over any attempt to bring his office to heel and to resist "strongly and publicly" or face the end of the privatised railway.