GB Rail Statistics and other useful information

GB Train Operating Companies


Since the UK government took hands-on control of the railways in Great Britain from nationalized but hands-off British Rail, a process called privatization, a new kind of terminology has emerged which can confuse the unwary. For example, one would expect 'train operator' to mean any operator of a train, but this is not so. For a start, it only means operators of passenger trains; and an operator of a freight train is called a Freight Operating Company (or FOC); the word train does not appear. In addition, passenger train operators can (and usually do) run stations, in some cases a lot.

In addition to being split by load type, train operators are split by whether or not they have a government franchise. If they do, they are called franchised train operators and must operate within the parameters set out in their franchise. They also have a fixed life, though this can be extended under some circumstances and of course they can win successive terms. A non-franchised operator operates because they choose to, and because the law allows them open access to the railway network subject to the approval of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). These operators are called 'open access' operators. In theory they can operate indefinitely, but in practice the ORR usually gives its approval for a definite period, though it can be renewed. All freight operators and a small number of passenger operators are open access operators; the majority of passenger operators have a franchise.

Franchised Train Operators (TOCs)

A franchised passenger train operator (or TOC, for short) is the successful winner of a competitive tender process that sets out the train services required to be operated (a service level agreement). In no case is this free of government financial involvement as for reasons of historical accident some franchises are inherently unprofitable and require government revenue support while others are particularly profitable and in such cases operators pay the government a premium for the privilege of running the trains. Support and/or premium payments are agreed as part of the franchise deal for each year of the franchise.

Open Access Operators

TOCs are always companies set up specifically for that purpose and in the main have no physical assets, except perhaps office equipment. Trains are leased and the stations and track are owned by Network Rail, who are paid through access charges. Staff are gifted to them at franchise start, and are passed on at franchise end. Train operators have little to cushion them from external effects and survive on cashflow. This gives rise to various kinds of difficulty for which the franchise agreements must allow. One method is to reduce premiums required in bad times, in return for excess profits made in good, a process called cap and collar. Many of the franchises currently in operation are now getting government support as a result of this.

Open Access Operators also come in various flavours. Freight operators own not only the freight terminals but often the locomotives and wagons (or they lease them or hire them as required). In addition they can have other interests beyond carrying freight by rail. Passenger operators come in several types. Some are just small operators with a few trains while others can be more substantial affairs. For example Heathrow Express is an open access operators, but is owned by an airport. London Underground is an open access operator (over mainline tracks), but London Overground (also run by TfL) is a franchised operator.

Franchising Programme

The following link takes you to the DfT website indicating the current franchising programme, which might be helpful. Click HERE

Franchised Train Operators (TOCs)

Train Operator Owning Group Terms
Arriva Trains Wales Arriva plc (now owned by Deutsche Bahn AG) Franchise start: 7 December 2003, Term 15 years. Now responsibility of Welsh Assembly. Efficiency reviews every 5 years. Expected end date October 2018.
Chiltern Railways DB Regio (represented by Arriva), part of Deutsche Bahn AG Franchise start: February 2002, Term 20 years (to December 2021).
c2c (which the DfT refers to as the Essex Thames-side franchise) National Express Group plc A new franchise was won by National Express Group and awarded on 27 June 2014 for 15-years starting in November 2014. This followed a competition in which Abellio, First, National Express and MTR were shortlisted. Prior to that, the first franchise started in May 1996, Term 15 years. Continuation of up to two years was possible by mutual agreement (subsequently agreed to 26 May 2013). The plan was for refranchising in 2013 for 15 years. Process was cancelled part way through during 2012. A negotiated extension was awarded to the c2c contract to September 2014.
CrossCountry Arriva plc (now owned by Deutsche Bahn AG) Franchise start: November 2007, Franchise end 31st March 2016 (with final 2½ years conditional on meeting performance targets). However in March 2013 the DfT stated that as part of the solution to the franchising hiatus the franchise would be extended to November 2019. (Confirmed in September 2016 that it will be extended to October 2019).
East Coast Virgin East Coast Virgin East Coast took over the franchise from 1 March 2015 following a competition in 2014 amongst shortlisted bidders (FirstGroup, Stagecoach with Virgin, and Keolis with Eurostar); the government announced on 27 November 2014 that the Stagecoach (90%)–Virgin (10%) bid had been successful in their bid for an 8-year franchise. The new company (trading as Inter City Railways) would take over on 1 March 2015 from Directly Operated Railways (a government subsidiary) which stepped in in 2009 following the early withdrawal of National Express plc. In March 2013 it was announced that the DfT would select this to be the first new franchise to be let following the previous year's franchising programme collapse.
East Midlands Trains Stagecoach Group plc Franchise start: 11 November 2007, Term 7 years 4 months (to 1st April 2015). Last 1½ years subject to performance review and agreement. In March 2013 it was indicated that there would be a 30 month extension until October 2017 (later moved back to March 2018).
First Capital Connect See Thameslink  
First Great Western (trading as Great Western Railway). First Group plc The present negotiated franchise operates from September 2015 until April 2019 and follows complex difficulties with the competitive franchise programme. First Group ran a competitive franchise previously. This started 10 April 2006  with a term of 7 years with possible 3-year extension subject to performance and agreement. FGW declined an extension on commercial grounds. Retendering was in process during 2012 until DfT irregularities were discovered and process stalled. After several interim arrangements were discussed, the present plan to directly award was arrived at until 2019 (extendable by one year) to buy breathing space before another competition can be launched.
First TransPennine Express First Group plc The Transpennine Express contract was awarded to First Group on 9 December 2015 and will operate from 1 April 2016 for 7 years until 31 March 2023 with a possible 2 year extention at DfT discretion.
       The previous franchise was a joint venture between First Group plc (55%) and Keolis SA (itself partly owned by SNCF - 45%), but was always branded as a First Group product. This started on 1 February 2004 until December 2012 although a 2-year extension beyond 2012 was possible by mutual agreement, or 28-week extension at DfT discretion. DfT policy changed and that franchise was subsequently extended until March 2015 with an option to align termination with Northern Rail refranchise in April 2014. In March 2013 it was announced the franchise would be extended to February 2016, and would align with Northern (subsequently the extension was until end of March)
Greater Anglia (with Stansted Express) Abellio (previously know as Ned Rail -Nederlandse Spoorwegen) A very short 'hold over' franchise was tendered in 2011 and awarded to Abellio, which was intended to run it from 5 February 2012 to 19 July 2014. The 2012 franchising difficulties required this to be extended by 27 months to October 2016. In effect this nearly doubles the length of the franchise; one might venture that bids might have allowed for some investment had this been known at the start. A competition has recently been undertaken with Abellio Greater Anglia, First Group and National Express being shortlisted The winner was Abellio for a franchise starting 17th October 2016 and running until October 2025.
Island Line Stagecoach Holdings plc See South West Trains franchise
London Midland Govia Ltd - a joint venture between Go-Ahead Group plc and Keolis SA (itself partly owned by SNCF). Franchise start: 11 November 2007, Franchise end: 19 September 2015. Last 2 years subject to performance review and agreement. The 2012 franchising delays have required this to be extended by 21 months until June 2017 but in November 2015 the government announced an extension until October 2017.

A new competition is currently in hand for the West Midlands franchise and on 7 April 2016 three shortlisted bidders were announced. They are Govia Ltd (GoAhead and Keolis), MTR and Abellio (with East Japan Railways with Mitsui).
London Overground (Franchise managed by Transport for London) London Overground Rail Operations Ltd, a subsidiary of DB Regio (part of Deutsche Bahn AG) and MTR Corporation (Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway Corporation). Franchise start: 11 November 2007, Term: 7 years with possible 2-year extension. This franchise is let and operated by Transport for London. Early in 2013 it was announced the franchise would be extended to 14 November 2016. London Overground also took over some West Anglia routes during 2015 (to Cheshunt,  Enfield Town and Chingford).  Refranchising is currently in hand and the existing franchisee has recently begun operating the additional services.
Merseyrail (Franchise managed by Merseyside PTE) Serco plc with Abellio (Nederlandse Spoorwegen), trading as Merseyrail Electrics (2002) Ltd. Franchise start: 20 July 2003, Term: 25 years. This franchise is let and operated by Merseyside PTE.
Northern Rail Arriva plc (owned by Deutsche Bahn AG) The Northern Rail contract was awarded to Arriva on 9 December 2015 and will operate from 1 April 2016 for 9 years until 31 March 2025 with a possible 1 year extention at DfT discretion.
      The previous franchise was operated by Serco plc with Ned Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) - now called Abellio. This started on 12 December 2004, Term: originally 6 years 9 months with a 2-year extension subject to performance review. A franchise extension was granted in May 2010 and was due to expire on 15 September 2013. In March 2013 it was announced there would be a 22-month extension to February 2016, aligning with Transpennine. This was later put back to April 2016.
Scotrail Abellio. This has recently been refranchised and in October 2014 it was announced that the new franchise would be operated by Abellio, which took over from 1 April 2015. Abellio is essentially Netherlands Railways and the franchise is designed to last for ten years. Prior to this, the previous Scotrail franchise started on 17 October 2004, Term: 7 years with 3-year extension option, which was exercised during 2008. During this period, control of the franchise was transferred to and managed by Transport Scotland on behalf of Scottish Government. On 5th December 2012 it was announced that Scotrail was to get a further 5-month extension to mitigate issues arising from Summer 2012 refranchising issues (taking it to end of March 2015).
     A separate franchise has been let for the Caledonian Sleeper service and an announcement in May 2014 indicated this would go to Serco, a new player, and they took over on 31 March 2015.
SouthEastern Govia (joint venture between Go-Ahead Group plc and Keolis SA (itself partly owned by SNCF). Franchise start: 1 April 2006, Term 6 years to March 2012 with possible 2-year extension to 31 March 2014 subject to performance review and at SouthEastern's option (subsequently exercised and confirmed). In March 2013 it was announced there would be a further extension of 50 months to June 2018.
South West Trains Stagecoach Holdings plc Franchise start: 4 February 2007, Term 7 years. a 3-year extension is possible subject to performance review and at SWT's option. Franchise now includes former Island Line (Isle of Wight). Although an extension was in fact awarded until February 2017, in March 2013 it was announced the franchise would be extended again until April 2019 but terms could not be agreed and in June 2015 the government announced that they were preparing to run a franchise competition with a view to a new franchisee starting in June 2017. First Group and Stagecoach are shortlisted.
Southern (with Gatwick Express) Govia (joint venture between Go-Ahead Group plc and Keolis SA (itself partly owned by SNCF). Franchise start: May 2003, originally the franchise was to end on 30 September 2009 but it was subsequently re-awarded to Govia until July 2014 with possible 1-year extension subject to performance (this was subsequently confirmed, so it will end in July 2015). This franchise is being absorbed within the expanded Thameslink franchise, also won by Govia (see under Thameslink for details). It is understood the Southern brand will be retained.
Thameslink Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd. This franchise incorporates what had been the First Capital Connect franchise (on Midland main line and GN main line) and Southern and some South Eastern services. It had been intended to launch this much enlarged franchise during 2013 but the process stalled in consequence of the problem with the West Coast franchise and irregularities at the DfT. The existing franchisees were therefore granted or negotiated franchise extensions. The DfT subsequently arranged a new competition, between existing shortlisted bidders, and this took place in 2013/14. The winner, announced on 23 May, was Govia, who were awarded the 7-year franchise. This is started in September 2014 (FCC routes), December 2014 (South East routes) and July 2015 (Southern routes). The differential starting dates are an interesting development. This is in effect a management contract with government taking the revenue risk. It is understood the Southern sub-brand will be retained.
Virgin Trains
(Virgin West Coast)
Virgin Rail Group Ltd (with Stagecoach as minority [49%] shareholder) West Coast Franchise started in March 1997, Term 15 years; a 28 week extension was possible at DfT discretion (this extension was awarded taking end of existing franchise to 9 December 2012). Refranchising began but the process was cancelled (after award to First Group) owing to DfT errors. Virgin Trains was then asked to hold over on a management contract basis (for 1% of turnover), due to expire on 9 November 2014 (or up to 6 months earlier if new contract could be let in that time). After immense debate it was finally decided to buy additional breathing time by extending the Virgin franchise until 31 March 2017 on the basis that service improvements were made and an agreed premium paid. The premium for the 3-year extension amounts to £430m and the new arrangement came into force on 22 June 2014. The agreement allows for a one year extension at the DfT's option. Further slippage meant in July 2015 the franchise was further extended to September 2017.

Open Access Passenger Train Operators (TOCs)
Name of Operator Details
Grand Central Established by private investment team and recently taken over by Arriva (Deutche Bahn AG)
Heathrow Connect BAA plc (who supply trains and drivers) and First Group plc
Heathrow Express Owned by BAA plc
Hull Trains Majority owned by First Group plc. Other investors include directors of Renaissance Trains.
London Underground London Underground Ltd (a subsidiary of Transport for London) operates some services over Network Rail tracks, largely using 'grandfather' rights. By agreement of DfT it is also the station operator of several Network Rail stations through which it runs.
Eurostar Today, the Eurostar brand is owned and operated by Eurostar International Ltd, a company owned jointly by London & Continental Railways (in UK), SNCF (French Railways) and SNCB (Belgian Railways). It operates trains via the channel tunnel between London St Pancras International, Paris and Brussels. In the UK it presently uses dedicated tracks (known as HS2) between London and the Folkestone, though in early days it used the main line rail network from Waterloo. It therefore differs at the moment from other open access operators. The UK government has sold its stake in the company, which will shortly be entirely controlled by SNCF.
   Until 2009, Eurostar had been the trade name used by SNCF, SNCB and Eurostar UK Ltd, who jointly operated high speed services via the Channel Tunnel route using their own trains and crews, with identical branding. Eurostar UK Ltd was then wholly owned by London & Continental Railways (who refurbished St Pancras and built the UK high speed line), but did not itself operate trains, a management contract being in place with InterCapital & Regional Rail Ltd (a consortium of National Express, SNCF, SNCB and British Airways).

Open Access Freight Train Operators (FOCs)

Operator Details
Direct Rail Services Direct Rail has its origins in 1995 in haulage of materials for British Nuclear Fuels Ltd and in 2005 became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Nevertheless they provide services for hire for a wide range of customers.
DB Schenker DB Schenker is a partnership of DB Railways (Deutsche Bahn) and Schenker logistics. It is the largest UK freight operator and its locomotives are also hired in by other operators and Network Rail from time to time. DB Schenker's UK freight activities are built on the acquisition in 2007 of English, Welsh and Scottish Railways, which had its origins in 1996 rail privatization when it acquired four divisions of the former British Rail freight business. EWS was originally owned by Wisconsin Central Ltd, itself taken over by Canadian National in 2001.
Freightliner Freightliner has its origins in British Rail's development of the liner train concept which propelled trainload freight forward at expense of wagonload traffic. It is no surprise to see it still the largest operator of UK container traffic, especially to and from ports. The company has changed hands several times and was recently purchased by Genesee & Wyoming Inc (a US freight concern).
Freightliner Heavy Haul Freightliner Heavy Haul is a separate division of Freightliner providing trainload movement between inland locations, by no means the majority of which is container based.
Fastline Freight A newish operator (part of Jarvis) at first carrying container traffic and heavy trainload traffic such as power station coal. It decided to leave the container business during 2009. Jarvis is presently in administration and long term future of Fastline will depend on that of Jarvis.
GB Railfreight GB Railfreight was created by GB Railways Ltd around 2001 to exploit some market opportunities. GB Railways was subsequently acquired by First Group. The company has grown considerably and the company now has a significant market share. The company was recently acquired by Eurotunnel.
Colas Rail A small operator initially devoted to developing timber traffic.
Devon & Cornwall Railway A new rail freight operator, licensed in 2011, owned by British American Railway Services. The company appears to have begun operations early in 2012.
Cargo-D A small operator providing rolling stock for charter operators and freight wagons and locomotive power.
Riviera Trains A small operator predominantly providing and operating charter trains.