Greater Anglia bosses still waiting for news on new government help
- Credit: Archant
Rail bosses are facing a nervous weekend as the government’s money which has kept trains operating during the lockdown and beyond is due to run out at midnight on Sunday – and talks are continuing with the Department for Transport on a new scheme.
With passenger levels still only running at about 25% of pre-lockdown numbers, rail companies would be facing huge losses if they tried to run anything like a normal service – but the government has demanded a major say on how they operate in return for providing funding.
There has been speculation that some commercially-owned companies that are listed on the stock market could be forced to walk away from existing franchises and handing them back to the government, effectively nationalising their services.
The government has spent an estimated £3.5bn keeping trains running since the lockdown started with its Emergency Measures Agreements – but no one was prepared to comment officially on what might happen after Sunday.
Greater Anglia is owned by Abellio (which is owned by Dutch State Railways) and Japanese company Mitsui – and no one from the company was able to comment on the negotiations.
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A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group said it was expected that an announcement would be made by 7am on Monday to ensure there was some clarity when stock exchanges opened for the week.
The DfT is under pressure to reduce the amount that franchise holders are paid.
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Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said in the House of Commons it was “absolutely staggering” that no announcement has been made regarding what will happen when EMAs expire on Sunday.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs that “it is not possible to conduct negotiations with nine different operating companies in public”, adding that he would make a statement “as soon as there is something to say”.
Department for Transport data shows demand for rail travel fell to as low as 4% of pre-pandemic levels in April, but passengers have been returning slowly. The Government-commissioned rail review was due to be published in autumn 2019, with a key part expected to be an end to the rail franchising model. But it has been delayed by December’s general election and the coronavirus pandemic.