Ministers criticised over foreign running of British rail services

Train services between Manchester and Leeds are twice as slow as southern journeys which are further apart
Train services between Manchester and Leeds are twice as slow as southern journeys which are further apart
Have your say

A TRADE union has called on MPs to hold an inquiry into the role of foreign companies in UK railways after producing figures showing three-quarters of rail franchises are now operated by overseas firms.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union claimed foreign state-owned companies were effectively using profits from their UK operations to help offer cheaper services in their home countries.

It also criticised the Government for allowing state-backed overseas companies to compete for rail franchises while refusing to allow a UK public sector operator to bid.

The Government described the union’s claims as “completely misleading”.

A study produced by the RMT showed that 20 of the country’s 27 private rail contracts were now owned by foreign state-owned or backed railways, mainly from France, Germany and Holland.

The union said that following last week’s decision to award the Scotrail franchise to Dutch state-owned firm Abellio, overseas firms now “dominated” the UK’s railways.

The union’s group of MPs called today for a Parliamentary inquiry into rail ownership, and its impact on fares and services.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The true scale of the way the railways here in Britain are being used as a cash cow to hold down fares and improve services across the rest of Europe will shock passengers as they prepare for another week of being crammed into creaking cattle trucks while being bled dry when they pay for their ticket.

“With the planned reprivatisation of the East Coast Mainline by this rotten Government, we are rapidly heading towards a situation where almost the entire train operation in Britain is in the hands of overseas companies sucking out profits to benefit their own domestic transport services.

“This outrageous situation is solely down to the right-wing ideology of this Government, clearly shared by the SNP in Scotland, which says you can have state operation of railways in Britain as long as it isn’t by the British state for the benefit of the British people.”

The northern franchise covering most local rail services in Yorkshire is operated by Northern Rail, a partnership between Serco and Dutch firm Abellio.

Transpennine Express services, connecting Yorkshire to the North-West, are run by a company co-owned by First and Keolis, a French firm part-owned by the state rail company SNCF.

Abellio and Keolis are also involved in bids for the next transpennine and northern franchises which are due to begin in 2016.

Labour has promised to pass laws to allow public sector operators to compete for the right to run rail franchises.

The party has also been campaigning to prevent the return of East Coast Main Line services which connect Yorkshire to Scotland and London, to the private sector.

Thye have been run by state-backed firm East Coast since 2009.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “These claims are completely misleading. All companies must be registered and paying tax here in the UK.

“Equally, they have been awarded franchises through open competitions precisely because they offer the best deal for UK passengers and taxpayers.

“The fact is that franchising has transformed Britain’s railways. An industry once in decline is now experiencing record growth, with passenger journeys doubling since privatisation.”