Return of the ‘LNER’ will be welcomed

A Mk 3 coach fitted with sliding doors.
A Mk 3 coach fitted with sliding doors.

The accompanying picture shows a CrossCountry Mk3 coach having been prepared for continued service beyond 2020.

These coaches have run for 40 years, with the train and platform staff having to run up and down the train at stations shutting doors, which alighting passengers have left swinging open because the designers were not allowed to include modern doors in 1970.

When CrossCountry won the franchise a decade ago it bought five inter-city 125 sets, one of which is maintained at Craigentinny while the other four are in service, but it is reported that the contract to maintain them has been transferred to Laira at Plymouth so that Craigentinny can concentrate on maintaining the new Class 800 hybrid trains for LNER.

The original LNER (London & North Eastern Railway) was formed in 1923 when 120 railways were grouped into four following the First World War.

At that time Winston Churchill wanted the railways nationalised and run for the benefit of the national economy, but that had to wait until after the Second World War, when it became inevitable. As for running for the benefit of the economy, that idea was scotched a few years later with a change of government.

In announcing the re-branding of the East Coast Main Line, the Secretary of State for Transport slipped in the welcome news that henceforth the line would adopt the pre-nationalisation name, apparently irrespective of who holds the franchise.

Initially, this will be the state (again) following yet another failure of the private sector, which has again demonstrated its inability to operate this line profitably. In the meantime, the Government will be seeking yet another private operator prepared to take it on, and it is to be hoped that prospective bidders will have ‘got the message’ before they commit themselves.

At least it appears that we shall be spared any more changes of name. It will also be very welcome if the tone of notices and advertisements on trains and stations becomes more mature again.

The adoption of LNER as the name has a precedent, making it seem as though it is policy now to resurrect the old names, which the elderly will fondly remember. The precedent was set by the return of the name Great Western Railway a couple of years ago, when it was announced that the franchise holder First Group, which had been trading as First Great Western, was dropping its brand name so that the name Great Western Railway will not need to be changed when the franchise changes. The name dates from 1833, two years before construction began.

This raises the question of what will happen south of the Thames, where Southern Railway was the pre-nationalisation name of the railway in almost all of the southern counties. It is currently used by the franchise holder covering just the part that was originally the London Brighton and South Coast Railway in Sussex.

The current Southern Railway franchisee is being supported by the Government to eliminate guards on trains without any financial loss to itself in the event of industrial action. The unions are determined to fight this, and most passengers appreciate the importance of the guard. Whether the dispute will rumble on until there is a change of government is open to question.

Most of the franchises have settled down after 20 years of privatisation, but one hears that there are one or two others in difficulty. Train-spotting is becoming a fascinating occupation.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp? priced £14.95, post paid and signed. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation, at £11.95. Order through www.john-wylde.co.uk or from Grieves, Berwick.