National Express sells c2c to Italian State Railway and quits rail franchising
National Express Group is to sell c2c, its last UK rail franchise, to Trenitalia, the passenger arm of Italian State Railway FS. An agreement in principle has been reached though the deal will need Department for Transport approval.
A decision is expected within the next three or four weeks.
NEG anticipates making a ‘small net profit’ of around £70m on the sale.
C2c is the trading name for the Essex Thameside franchise covering services on the erstwhile London, Tilbury & Southend line, a largely self-contained operation.
C2c’s current 15 year franchise runs to 2029.
The sale will mark the exit of National Express from the UK rail franchise business. At one time the group was the dominant operator and ran several franchises. C2c – along with some other TOCs -came within the NEG orbit when Prism Rail was acquired in July 2000.
NEG has been on a long losing streak: its East Anglia operation went to Abellio in February 2012, FirstGroup took over ScotRail in October 2004, and Wales & Borders fell to Arriva in December 2003. Its most high profile loss was the return of the prestigious East Coast franchise to the DfT in July 2009 after only 23 months, following failure to meet commitments.
NEG also lost out with the redrawing of the franchising map: Wessex Trains (June 2006); Midland Main Line (November 2007); Central Trains (November 2007); Silverlink (November 2007); and Gatwick Express (June 2008), all of which were subsumed into operations controlled by rival franchise holders.
NEG has not ruled out a return to the UK franchising scene at some future stage; it has won several public service rail contracts in Germany.
The c2c acquisition brings yet another TOC under foreign ownership and control.
FS (Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane) becomes the fourth European state railway to operate rail passenger franchises in the UK. German (DB), French (SNCF) and Dutch (NS) railways are already well entrenched.