Chris Grayling's Department of Transport is used to rail franchise scandal and failure. They are almost good at it by now.

After months of chaos and embarrassment around the botched re-tendering of East Coast, and now West Coast rail franchises, even the most ardent believers in privatisation must find their faith tested to its very limits.

Untangling the web of announcements, re-announcements, razzmatazz 'visions' and too-good-to-be-true deals can be tricky, but the essence is this. Yesterday the Secretary of State informed Parliament that that rather than going through the bother of a competitive process when the West Coast Mainline comes up for renewal next year, the franchise will simply be handed back to Virgin Trains to continue running until 2020 (terms and conditions unclear). 

As for the second of Britain's main Intercity lines; East Coast Mainline, that franchise has collapsed into an embarrassing mess for the third time in a decade. Late last year, Grayling was forced to admit that less than three years after taking it on, and four years early, the current operators Stagecoach and Virgin would be walking away, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.

Having initially hoped to keep the failed franchise on life support until his new ‘vision’ is ready in 2020, yesterday Grayling added insult to injury with the news that Stagecoach and Virgin's departure will, it turns out, be sooner rather than later - "a small number of months and no more".

What happens next is anybody's guess.

For a cheerleader of privatiasation such as Chris Grayling, the options are politically unappetising.

In days gone by, the solution was a simple one. Failed franchisees were bundled off the railway and a back-up public operator set up for this purpose, Directly Operated Rail (DOR), stepped in until a replacement operator could be found. You may remember them as 'East Coast', which ran the service between 2009 and 2015 last time it all went belly-up.

Returning the East Coast Mainline to DOR control could still be an option for the Secretary of State.

But here's the fly in the ointment:  they've only gone and privatised DOR too. You read that right. Not even the Government's own back-up operator has escaped the privatising Tory zeal. A few years back, the holding company was gifted by the Department of Transport to engineering firm ARUP and accountants EY (formerly known as Ersnst and Young). So while passing the  East Coast Mainline into the care of DOR is still an option, the chance to run it in the public interest and control isn't.

So here we are: the farce of a railway nobody in the private sector wants to run, and a Government actively sabotaging any chance of public control.

This combined with five other directly awarded, no-competition deals on other parts of the rail network adds up to what the public already know. Privatisation has descended from scandal into farce, and it's time to totally re-think how we run our railways.

The obvious way forward is publicly-controlled rail services combining the rights of tax payers, fare payers, employees and local authorities. It enjoys widespread public support - but for ideological reasons, it's a model this Government will never be willing to accept.

If they won't, we will. In the weeks ahead, the Co-operative Party will be setting out plans for a new model for the railways in our upcoming ‘Ownership Matters’ policy document.

Lets hope that Chris Grayling takes a look and plots a different course for rail services.

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