Passenger satisfaction with East Coast railways falls from record levels immediately after privatisation

East Coast was the highest-performing of the long-distance rail franchises

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Passenger satisfaction levels with the East Coast Main Line rail service have plummeted since the Government privatised the line, industry statistics show.

The service between King’s Cross, Yorkshire, and the North East had been run directly by the Department for Transport between 2009 and early 2015 – making it one of the few publicly-owned railways in the UK.

During its being run by the DfT the route returned hundreds of millions of pounds in surplus to the taxpayer and in its passenger survey as a last publicly-owned line achieved the highest passenger satisfaction level of any long-distance franchise – 94 per cent.

The Government has however since returned the line to the private sector, with Virgin Trains East Coast taking over management on 1 March 2015. 

In its first National Rail Passenger Survey period back in the private sector, satisfaction with the line has fallen to 89 per cent, bringing it more in line with the UK’s other privatised long-distance railways lines.

The figures originate from the Autumn edition of the National Rail Passenger Survey and are compared to the Spring 2015 edition of the survey.

East Coast was brought into public ownership as a last resort by the Government when the previous franchisee, National Express East Coast, dropped out, citing problems turning a profit on the service.

Some railways around the UK are publicly owned including Northern Ireland Railways and parts of London’s transport network, which is operated by Transport for London.

Most are however run by private franchisees, who bid to the DfT for the service and then run it for profit. 

Other operators had a mixed record in the Autumn 2015 survey. Abellio Greater Anglia had 81 per cent satisfaction, c2c 89 per cent, Chiltern Railways 90 per cent, CrossCountry 86 per cent, East Midlands Trains 84 per cent and Govia Thameslink 73 per cent.

The Government has defended the franchising system, but Labour has pledged to take the whole system back into public ownership.

A spokesperson for Virgin Trains said: “In the relatively short time since we launched Virgin Trains services on the east coast route, we've focused on supporting our people to enhance our customers' experience and these results are demonstrating we are making good progress as more customers are saying they are satisfied with the attitude and helpfulness of our staff”.