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    How Foreign Governments Profit From Half Of British Railway Journeys

    More than 50% of UK railway travel involves a foreign state-owned railway company. Labour is developing its policy on the issue.

    Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Foreign governments make money from over 50% of railway travel in the UK, new analysis by BuzzFeed shows.

    The French, German and Dutch state railways together run the majority of UK rail services in terms of passenger miles travelled.

    The findings come as Labour's policy team considers whether to commit the party to taking the railways back into public ownership if it wins the 2015 election. Labour's leadership faced grassroots calls to commit to rail renationalisation over the weekend after reports that its leadership might not adopt the policy.

    Since it was privatised in 1993, Britain's railway franchising system has allowed train companies owned by foreign governments to make money running services in Britain.

    Out of the 309 million passenger miles travelled on UK trains in 2012–13, 159 million were made on franchises either partly or entirely controlled by a foreign state railway.

    Foreign state-owned railways either control or partly control these UK rail franchises:

    Jon Stone / BuzzFeed

    The French state railway, SNCF, operates in the UK through its majority ownership of the company Keolis, which profits from a number of services as part of a joint venture named Govia. As well running national rail services, Keolis has also just won the contract to operate the Docklands Light Railway in London.

    The Dutch state railway, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, has an international arm called Abellio, which runs the Greater Anglia service. It also operates the huge Northern Rail franchise and Liverpool's Merseyrail service in partnership with outsourcing company Serco.

    Transport company Arriva is a subsidiary of the German state railway, Deutsche Bahn, and operates most Welsh train services, Chiltern Railways, Cross Country, and Grand Central. Arriva also runs the London Overground as part of a joint venture.

    A 2012 study found tickets on Britain's trains were around twice as expensive as in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

    The British government paid £4 billion in subsidies to rail operators last year, with train operators, including the foreign state railways, sending £200 million in profits back to their shareholders.

    Advocates of UK state ownership of the railways say the profits could be channelled back into the UK railways rather than sent abroad, or could be used to pay off the deficit or cut taxes.

    But the Labour leadership has indicated it is not ready to renationalise the lines and the coalition government remains committed to the existing system.

    Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, whose party supports renationalisation, said a return to public ownership would simple and inexpensive.

    "The fact that large amounts of the profits of our railways – coming from British pockets, whether by means of fares or taxes – are going to foreign governments just illustrates the absurdity of our current arrangements," she added.

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