Merseyrail pays shareholders £14.5m dividend windfall as annual profits at the Liverpool city region rail operator rocket 450% with revenues rising almost 14% to £185m. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool city region rail operator Merseyrail is reporting a 450% increase in annual pre-tax profits to £15.1m, leading to a £14.5m dividend windfall to its shareholders.
According to accounts just filed on Companies House, in the 12 months to January 7, 2023, Merseyrail saw revenues rise almost 14% to £185.7m. In its last pre-COVID results, covering 2019, revenues hit £175m and pre-tax profits came in at £17.7m.
These latest results mean Merseyrail’s shareholders will share total dividends of £14.5m. No dividend was paid last year as the company continued to grapple with the impact of the pandemic.
Known as Merseyrail Electrics 2002, the company has two shareholders – Serco Group and Transport UK. The latter business was created in August 2022 following a UK-led management buyout of Abellio, the overseas division of Netherlands Railways.
It means Transport UK is currently the 50:50 joint venture partner of Serco in Merseyrail Electrics 2002. Its 25-year franchise to operate the network runs until 2028.
Merseyrail directors were paid a total of £475,000 in salaries and pension benefits during the 12-month period, the accounts reveal. The highest paid director received £175,000.
In 2022 Merseyrail was the most punctual rail operator in the UK, with 93.35% of services running on time. It operates across more than 120km of track, 10.5km of which is underground and has almost 70 stations. It carries 90,000 passengers every weekday.
In early October Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, the region’s transport authority, officially opened the new Headbolt Lane station at Kirkby. The line to the new station is not electrified. Instead the network’s new Class 777 trains will operate on battery power.
This removes the need for a live third rail, which could enable the Merseyrail network to run to places previously inaccessible, including as far as Manchester, Wrexham, Warrington, Preston and Runcorn.
In the annual report Merseyrail said: “Further long-term plans continue to include an extension of the network from Bidston to Wrexham and the reopening of the St James station, allowing for direct access to the thriving Baltic Triangle area.”
In January this year the first units of the new 52-strong Class 777 train fleet came into service on the Liverpool to Kirkby line. Paid for by the Combined Authority the trains cost £500m.
They are more energy efficient than the older trains and the Combined Authority estimates the investment will boost the city region by £70m a year. They also come equipped with wifi, plug sockets and USB charging points.
In the weeks following the initial launch the trains were also introduced onto the Ormskirk line. Then in the summer the first of the new units arrived on the Wirral line in time for the Open Golf Championship at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake.
They are now a regular sight on the Chester, Ellesmere Port, New Brighton and West Kirby routes. Passengers on the Southport to Hunts Cross line will have to wait until adjustments have been made to the platform at Southport station.
“Our full year saw passenger confidence grow, as large-scale events returned to the region. As a result, our revenue recovery growth has been strong and we are now operating at 85% of pre-pandemic levels,” the report added.
One of the more recent criticisms of Merseyrail is its refusal to accept e-tickets as proof of payment. This has led to people being fined for not having a ticket despite being able to offer evidence of the fare being paid.
In the accounts Merseyrail insists it “remains committed to upgrading the customer ticket proposition to provide a modernised service to customers”. It is “continuing to analyse a suite of additional options”
However, the firm has not committed to a timetable on this, simply adding: “The business is looking at modernising ticketing and implementing contactless ticketing.”