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16 May 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:22pm

From the under-30s railcard to the East Coast Mainline, the Conservatives are starting to sound more and more like Jeremy Corbyn

It will feed the spring in the Labour leader's step.

By Stephen Bush

So much for courting the youth vote: the Conservatives’ planned 26-31 railcard has stalled, Katy Balls reports over at the i.

The problem is a tug-of-war between government departments and the rail operators.  The Treasury wants Network Rail and through them, the rail operating companies, to pay for the discount, as they do for the under-27 railcard and the “Two Together” railcard, which allows two people to have a third off when they travel together. But rail operators want the Department for Transport to stump up the extra cash.

The Treasury objects to that because these discounts tend to increase the number of people using the train, so they would effectively be subsidising a scheme that boosts the amount of revenue going to the rail companies. One minister describes it as “the thin end of the wedge”. But the rail companies fear that a precedent is being set: of the government announcing money-off deals for consumers midway through their franchises and leaving them to find the money.

It’s part of the growing acrimony between the Department for Transport and the operating companies, which has come to a head on the East Coast Main Line, which, Chris Grayling has announced, will be taken back into public hands and away from Virgin/Stagecoach. The cause of the row? Virgin is still making money, but they aren’t making enough in order to make their franchise payments to the Department for Transport. The trouble arises during the bidding process, which incentivises the companies to make extravagant promises about how much value they can extract from the railway lines.

That then puts them at loggerheads with the Treasury, who expect those promises to be honoured.

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And that’s the more fundamental Corbynward move in transport policy: not towards the idea just that railway privatisation doesn’t work in practice, but to a fundamentally different relationship between contractors and Whitehall.

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