By Daniel Hunter
Only one in five voters (21 per cent) are in favour of re-privatising the East Coast Main Line, according to new polling published this week.
The survey of over 1,000 adults - carried out by Survation for the campaign group We Own it - shows that nearly three-fifths (58 per cent) of the public oppose government plans to hand the route back to private train operators. A further one in five (21 per cent) say they are unsure about the proposals.
The poll also shows that far more Conservative voters are against (48 per cent) taking the East Coast out of public ownership than are in favour of it (28 per cent).
The findings come as rail campaigners prepare to hold protests against the plans at 11 East Coast Main Line stations.
The protests, which have been organised by the TUC's Action for Rail campaign, will highlight how re-privatising the East Coast is bad for commuters and taxpayers.
Analysis published by Action for Rail shows that since returning to state control in 2009, the East Coast Main Line has returned £602 million to the Treasury - over £220 million more than the Virgin-operated West Coast line.
Over the same period Virgin, which has expressed an interest in taking over the East Coast Mainline route, paid shareholders nearly £200 million in dividends.
By contrast, all of the profits East Coast Main Line has made since being re-nationalised have been invested back into improving the service and by 2014 is expected to be generating over £800million for the Treasury.
Action for Rail says the government's decision to push ahead with the re-privatisation shows that ministers are putting ideology before evidence and ignoring the wishes of voters.
Protestors will today hand out cards to passengers highlighting how they will lose out if the East Coast is returned to private hands.
Action for Rail campaigners will use the cards to encourage commuters to tell their local MPs their concern over the plans. The cards urge MPs to back a policy of investment, fair fares and a publicly-owned railway that puts people and commuter safety before profits.
In London TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes and ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan will join campaigners at 8am at Kings Cross station.
"The government is once again putting ideology before evidence in its desire to hand the East Coast Main Line back to private train companies," TUC General Secretary, and chair of the Action for Rail campaign, Frances O'Grady said.
"Ministers seem intent on ignoring the successes re-nationalisation has brought over the last four years, such as record customer satisfaction, because it does not fit with their privatisation agenda.
"The majority of voters, however, do not want the East Coast Main Line to leave public ownership - including a very large swathe of Conservative voters.
"Taxpayers and commuters understand that rail privatisation has become a license to print money for train companies with huge amounts of public funds being siphoned off into shareholders' pockets. This must not be allowed to happen with the East Coast Main Line."
We Own it Director Catt Hobbs said: "The East Coast Mainline, like other public services, should not be run for profit. The general public know this and they don't want to see the line re-privatised.
"The campaign to keep the East Coast public is just one example of how public ownership is making a comeback. The days of privatisation-as-usual need to come to an end."
ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said: "The recent announcement by ATOC that we will not see any improvements in capacity before 2019, to alleviate the gross overcrowding highlighted in recent reports, gives the Action for Rail campaign greater impetus to challenge any job cuts in the railway community and to call for a new model.
"The one area where we could see real improvements in the future, allied to its current good performance, would be via directly operated railways on the East Coast, with further government investment."
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: "If you wanted the clearest possible evidence that this government is all about siphoning cash out of our railways and straight into the pockets of their big business backers, regardless of the cost to the taxpayer, you need look no further than the scandalous plans to re-privatise the East Coast.
"Twice the private sector have had a spin of the roulette wheel on this franchise and twice they have failed with the public sector not only sweeping up the mess, but delivering hundreds of millions of pounds in investment and returns to the British people. RMT will do all in its power to stop the racket of rail privatisation in its tracks."
TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: "The East Coast Main Line is the best value for passengers and taxpayers and this is why the Tories are in such a rush to flog it back to their public school chums in the City.
'They know an incoming Labour government will keep it as a benchmark performer against the privately run franchises. That would simply expose the charade of a privately run railway reliant on a £4 billion a year subsidy from Joe Public."
Unite acting national officer for the rail industry Ian Wood said: "It is clear that re-privatising the East Coast Main Line has got the big thumbs down from voters - they see what dogmatic coalition ministers can't; that rail privatisation only benefits the rail company bosses and shareholders, and not the travelling public.
"Britain needs a unified national rail service to provide a joined-up and cheaper service for passengers and freight users which would assist economic recovery. Such a system would also provide long-term security for hard-working staff.
"We don't need the present bizarre merry go-around that sees money flowing from the Treasury to the companies in the form of subsidies and the firms paying the government for the franchises to run services - this is a waste of taxpayers' money."
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