►► King’s Cross station, the London terminus of East Coast’s inter-city services ◀◀

A legal challenge to the Government’s sale of the East Coast main line franchise has been launched by the rail unions.

The re-privatisation of the service, currently run by Directly Operated Railways, is being rushed through before the general election in 2015, claim the unions.

They say their members’ jobs and conditions, as well as the interests of passengers and taxpayers, are threatened by a lack of consultation because the Government is cutting corners.

They are seeking a judicial review over East Coast and the extensions to the Thameslink and Great Northern franchises.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “It is imperative that we raise the genuine concerns of all stakeholders but, especially, the employees before this is rushed through. We cannot, in good conscience, allow the mistakes of the past to happen again.”

Directly Operated Railways, controlled by the Department for Transport, took over the East Coast franchise in 2009 when National Express failed.

Directly Operated Railways returned more than £200 million to taxpayers, compared to the private train operators who are creaming off profits.

Union campaigners believe East Coast should remain in DoR control as a comparator to the private operators, but in January, the Government published a shortlist of three bids, FirstGroup, a joint bid from Eurostar and French firm Keolis, and another from Virgin and Stagecoach.

RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “After the scandal of this Government robbing the British taxpayer of a billion pounds in the scramble to privatise Royal Mail, it is shocking that they are engaging in the same tactics to try and hand the East Coast main line back to their friends in big business. The British public has a right to openness and transparency.”

TSSA union leader Manuel Cortes said: “The coalition government knows only too well that rail franchising is not fit for purpose.”

The Department for Transport said: “We will vigorously defend this claim and remain committed to the franchising programme. As these legal proceedings are ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”