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National Express selling c2c rail group to Italy's Trenitalia for £70m

National Express has struck a £70 million deal to sell its c2c rail operation to Italy's Trenitalia, increasing the number of UK franchises in European hands.

The sale of the c2c franchise, which runs from the City of London to Essex, signals National Express's exit from the UK rail market to focus on "significant growth" opportunities in the US and Europe.

Trenitalia joins a string of European state-owned operators running services in the UK, including the Netherlands' Abellio, France's Keolis and Germany's Deutsche Bahn, which owns Arriva.

Dean Finch, chief executive of National Express Group, said c2c was the UK's "best performing franchise", but the deal provided "opportunities for all concerned".

The move is expected to be complete in three to four weeks if given the green light by the Department for Transport.

It will hand the company a "small net profit" and provide the "best, and fair, deal" for shareholders, National Express said.

Trenitalia chief executive Barbara Morgante said the operator will be "closely monitoring" the UK rail industry for further opportunities to buy UK franchises.

"We see significant chances to invest in UK rail and this in-principle agreement with National Express allows us to foster these ambitions," she said.

"We are also closely monitoring the Railways Franchising Programme as we intend to participate in tenders issued by the DfT to strengthen our presence in UK."

Shares in National Express were down 0.5% in morning trading on the FTSE 250 Index.

The c2c service runs between Fenchurch Street and Shoeburyness, covering 26 stations across east London and south Essex.

Trenitalia is owned by the FS Italiane Group, which runs 8,000 trains a day, serving 600 million passengers.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT trade union, said: "This is yet another part of Britain's rail operations being sold off to a European state-owned outfit.

"This time it's Trenitalia, an Italian operator, that is being given an open door to plunder passengers and the public purse to subsidise rail services in their own country.

"The Government should be hanging their heads in shame and this latest scandal ramps up the case for public ownership of our rail network."

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