Trains in Britain have been effectively nationalised after the Boris Johnson-led government suspended rail franchise agreements. The move came in a bid to stop train companies from collapsing under the COVID-19 strain. Emergency measures announced by the Department of Transport reveal train operators have been offered the chance to transfer “all revenue and cost risk” to the government and be paid a small management fee to continue running services.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said it “strongly welcomes” the proposals, which boosted the share prices of listed companies with rail franchises, such as FirstGroup and Go-Ahead. The protocol will be in place for an initial period of six months in order to “minimise disruption to the rail sector.”
FirstGroup's chief executive Matthew Gregory welcomed “swift and comprehensive” measures from the government and said the company had accepted its offer. The Department of Transportation said passenger numbers had fallen by up to 70 per cent, while ticket sales were down by two-thirds on the same period of 2019.
Transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said, “We are taking this action to protect the key workers who depend on our railways to carry on their vital roles, the hardworking commuters who have radically altered their lives to combat the spread of coronavirus and the frontline rail staff who are keeping the country moving. People deserve certainty that the services they need will run or that their job is not at risk in these unprecedented times. We are also helping passengers get refunds on advance tickets to ensure no one is unfairly out of pocket for doing the right thing.”
RDG chief executive Paul Plummer, meanwhile said, “The industry strongly welcomes the Department for Transport’s offer of temporary support and, while we need to finalise the details, this will ensure that train companies can focus all their efforts on delivering a vital service at a time of national need.”