Belfast Telegraph

Unions condemn '70% foreign ownership' of UK rail routes

Union leaders have reacted with fury to the sale of a UK train company to an Italian operator, saying 70% of rail routes in this country are now wholly or partly owned by foreign states.

A £70 million deal by National Express to sell its c2c rail operation to Italy's Trenitalia was described by the train drivers' union Aslef as an "a stonishing development".

General secretary Mick Whelan said: "Never before has a British rail franchise been directly transferred from one private operator to another in the privatisation era."

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union said large parts of Britain's rail network were now owned by German, Dutch, French, Belgian and now Italian state-owned railways.

General secretary Mick Cash said: "Britain's railways are being sold off to European state-owned outfits with the profits from our fares - amongst the highest in Europe - subsidising operations abroad. Trenitalia is the latest to jump at the chance to fill it's boots on the C2C routes.

"Privatisation has failed passengers and the public by hitting their pockets and providing poor service and left foreign state train operators laughing all the way to the bank.

"The revelation that 70% of the UK train operations are now partially or wholly owned by foreign states or their railways is nothing short of a national scandal.

"The case for public ownership of UK rail to end this racket is now overwhelming."

Transport Salaried Staffs Association leader Manuel Cortes said: "Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is not a man of his word. Like his fellow Tory Brexiteers he promised a vote to leave Europe would be a vote to take back control of Britain.

"But today we receive the news that another European government's rail company is to get a foothold in the UK rail market.

"Grayling refuses to take Southern into public control or let London mayor Sadiq Khan's office take it over, whilst at the same time now permitting Italy's public to own our railways.

"Grayling is failing British rail passengers and taxpayers."

Mr Whelan added: "National Express defaulted on its East Coast franchise in 2009 and it clearly overbid for the Essex Thameside franchise in 2014.

"The difference is that Chris Grayling has now let them off the hook and allowed them to walk away from their liabilities to British taxpayers with the sale to the Italians.

"Rumours abound in the industry about other rail operators who have overbid. Will they be allowed to sell their franchises too?"

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators and Network Rail, said: "Passengers and taxpayers benefit from the franchising system where rail companies from across the world bring new ideas and innovations to Britain's railway.

"Under this system, the railway has gone from costing taxpayers £2bn a year in terms of day-to-day costs to contributing £200m which is helping to fund the Railway Upgrade Plan of over £50bn to provide more comfortable and more reliable journeys."