Dutch operator pulling out of Merseyrail 

Joint venture business operating the Merseyrail network to be entirely UK-run with Dutch operator Abellio withdrawing from the franchise. Tony McDonough reports

There will be big changes to Merseyrail’s joint venture operator. Picture by Tony McDonough


A UK-led management buyout of a Dutch public transport operator will see a major change to the control of the Merseyrail franchise.

Abellio, the overseas division of Netherlands Railways, is withdrawing from the UK market after 20 years. It is currently the 50:50 joint venture partner of Serco in Merseyrail Electrics. Its 25-year franchise to operate the network runs until 2028.

Other services in the UK currently operated by Abellio include bus and rail operations in London, the Midlands and East Anglia. It now wants to focus on transport services within The Netherlands.

Current Abellio managing director Dominic Booth is leading a management buyout of the business. His new company is called Transport UK Group. Its deal to take over Abellio’s UK operations requires the approval of the Department for Transport, Transport for London and Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (CA).

Mr 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 this 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 demonstrates our confidence in the existing Abellio UK team. 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.

Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has made no secret of his ambition to take greater control over public transport in Merseyside. He is pushing for the reversal of bus deregulation and, with the franchise now entering its last few years. would like more control over Merseyrail.

In July LBN revealed that Mr Rotheram had struck an “agreement in principle” on a memorandum of understanding with the Department for Transport (DoT) to take full control of the Merseyrail network infrastructure.

Under the deal, the CA would take over control of the network from Network Rail. This would include all the track, signalling and stations. It would also give Mr Rotheram and the CA control over significant areas of land. However, it would not offer operational control of the network.

In a statement on Wednesday the CA said: “Passengers should expect services on the Merseyrail network to continue as usual following today’s announcement concerning the proposed management buyout.

“The Combined Authority will continue to work collaboratively with relevant parties to provide the best possible services for the city region and undertake appropriate due diligence to ensure the suitability of the new arrangements before providing its approval.”

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