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‘Tot ziens!’ Dutch Abellio decides to abandon British contracts

Dutch transport operator Abellio is leaving Britain, after running trains and buses in this country for almost 20 years.

Abellio is the overseas division of Netherlands Railways, which said the withdrawal would allow it to focus on domestic and international train services in the Netherlands.

Abellio’s current contracts with the Department for Transport and Transport for London will be transferred to a new British company as the result of a management buyout by the end of this year.

The new company is known as Transport UK Group Limited. It was set up in October last year and will be led by Abellio UK managing director Dominic Booth, who has been with Abellio in Britain since 2007.

The first franchise operated by Abellio was Merseyrail, which it won in 2003, when it was trading as NedRail, in partnership with Serco. NedRail was renamed Abellio in 2010.

Two years later it took over the Greater Anglia franchise from National Express, initially for just 17 months, although this term was extended to July 2014, when it was replaced by a second short franchise, also run by Abellio, which lasted until October 2016. Abellio was also awarded the following franchise, which involved the complete replacement of the fleet and would have run until at least October 2025 if the franchising system had not been abolished in September 2020 in favour of temporary Emergency Measures Agreements as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Abellio had already sold a 40 per cent share of Greater Anglia to Mitsui in 2017.

While franchises were still being offered Abellio also gained West Midlands from Stagecoach Group in 2019, and this franchise would have run until August 2027 without the effects of the pandemic. Abellio also runs more than 50 London bus routes under contract with Transport for London.

Abellio has not always had a smooth ride in Britain. It had won the ScotRail contract in 2015 for up to 12 years, but was in conflict with Transport Scotland later on over poor performance, partly caused by industrial problems, and was issued with more than one remedial notice. However, the Scottish Government took advantage of a break clause in the contract and terminated it on 31 March this year. ScotRail was then nationalised.

There were also problems with Greater Anglia, when Abellio disputed the terms of its franchise contract in relation to London employment levels, which affected premium payments.

The leader of the takeover, Dominic Booth, said: ‘I’ve been a railwayman all my life. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to return key public transport services back into UK ownership at a time when some of our competitors look destined for overseas ownership. We expect the business to transfer by the end of the year, following which we will focus all our energies and expertise on continuing to deliver the best possible services for our passengers, investing in our train and bus routes, and helping to develop a future ready, low emission UK transport network.

‘Our wish to buy the company from Nederlandse Spoorwegen demonstrates our confidence in the existing Abellio UK team, both in our Head Office and on the ground. It’s the dedication of our 15,000 employees, together with a continuity of management, that will ensure our new company is a great success.

‘We are grateful for the support and backing that we have received from Nederlandse Spoorwegen to date, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with them to manage this process to a successful conclusion.

‘This deal will put us in a strong position to continue the smooth operating of our current routes as well as giving us the capability to grow the business. Beyond that, we are, and will continue to be, thought leaders in our sector determined to play a long-term and vital role in future of UK transport.’

Completion of the buyout will be subject to formal approval from partners including the Department for Transport, Transport for London and Merseytravel, as well as regulatory consent from the Office for Rail and Road.

‘Tot ziens!’ = Goodbye

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