Three-quarters of the UK's railways are now owned by foreign companies, "sucking out" profits to help their own services, according to a new report.
A study by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) showed that 20 of the country's 27 private rail contracts were now owned by foreign state-owned or backed railways, mainly from France, Germany and Holland.
The union said that following last week's decision to award the Scotrail franchise to Dutch state-owned firm Abellio, overseas firms now "dominated" the UK's railways.
The union's group of MPs called today for a parliamentary inquiry into rail ownership, and its impact on fares and services. Words: PA
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "The true scale of the way the railways here in Britain are being used as a cash cow to hold down fares and improve services across the rest of Europe will shock passengers as they prepare for another week of being crammed into creaking cattle trucks while being bled dry when they pay for their ticket.
"With the planned re-privatisation of the East Coast Mainline by this rotten government, we are rapidly heading towards a situation where almost the entire train operation in Britain is in the hands of overseas companies sucking out profits to benefit their own domestic transport services.
"This outrageous situation is solely down to the right-wing ideology of this Government, clearly shared by the SNP in Scotland, which says you can have state operation of railways in Britain as long as it isn't by the British state for the benefit of the British people."
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents operators and Network Rail, said: "Britain's railway has been transformed in the last 15 years into the best in Europe by a combination of
government policy and a system where different operators compete for the right to run services, but we must keep improving.
"Passenger numbers have almost doubled since the 1990s with money being returned by operators to government for reinvestment in the railway increasing fivefold to £1.96bn. Meanwhile, operator profits remain, on average, 3 per cent."
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "These claims are completely misleading. All companies must be registered and paying tax here in the UK. Equally, they have been awarded franchises through open competitions precisely because they offer the best deal for UK passengers and taxpayers.
"The fact is that franchising has transformed Britain's railways. An industry once in decline is now experiencing record growth, with passenger journeys doubling since privatisation. "
The UK's worst train stations
Most of the UK's rail network is owned by foreign companies
This Edwardian station was built in the early 1900s and is operated by East Midlands Trains. 59 per cent of people surveyed said they were satisfied with the station - a low score which ranked it bottom for both cleanliness and facilities in the Passenger Focus National Passenger survey.
Birmingham New Street railway station is the largest and busiest serving Birmingham. Despite the regular flow of people, only 64% of passengers surveyed in the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) are satisfied with the sation.
London Bridge railway station is a central London railway station and a London Underground complex in the London Borough of Southwark. The station is the oldest railway station in central London and one of the oldest in the world. 67% of passengers surveyed were satisfied with this station, the fourth busiest station in London.
Peterborough railway station is a major interchange serving both the north-south ECML, as well as East-West long-distance and local services. The station is managed by East Coast. Just 67% of passengers surveyed were satisfied with this station.
Crewe station was completed in 1837 and is one of the most historic railway stations in the world. Like London Bridge and Peterborough, only 67% of passengeres surveyed were happy with this station.
Gatwick Airport station provides a direct rail connection to London. The station platforms are located about 70 metres away from the airport's South Terminal. 69% of passengers surveyed were satisfied with this station.
Stockport railway station was identified as one of the ten worst category B interchange stations by a mystery shopper assessment in 2009. Despite improvements being made to the station since, it is still one of the ten worst stations with only 70% of passengers satisfied with the station.
Clapham Junction station is one of the busiest in Europe by number of trains using it with many routes from London's two busiest termini, London Waterloo and London Victoria. Only 71% of passengers surveyed were satisfied with this busy station.
Maidenhead railway station serves the town of Maidenhead, Berkshire, England. It is served by local services operated by First Great Western from London Paddington to Reading, and is also the junction for the Marlow Branch Line. The survey showed 71 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the overall quality of the station, giving it the ninth lowest satisfaction rating.
Coventry station has the PlusBus scheme where train and bus tickets can be bought together at a saving. Despite this convenient feature, only 72% of passengers surveyed were satisfied with the station.
Most of the UK's rail network is owned by foreign companies
The line between Glasgow and Mallaig is one of Britain’s most eye-catching train journeys. During the course of the 164-mile route, the “Road to the Isles” hugs the banks of Loch Lomond on departure from Glasgow, before making its way past castles, mountains (including Ben Nevis) and waterfalls en route to Scotland’s west coast. Then, just as you approach the journey’s end, the track crosses the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous by the Harry Potter movies.
There’s no disputing the Cote d’Azur is one of Europe’s loveliest coastlines, with golden beaches and bright blue waters stretching for more than 100km. Skirt the shoreline from Fréjus in France to Ventimiglia in Italy and you can give this sandy playground a closer inspection, because there are ample opportunities to stop and soak up the atmosphere if you catch one of the daily regional TER trains, which call at Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Eze and other stops along the way.
Keep your eyes on the skies on the daily InterCity from Venice to Munich, which weaves through the mighty Alps on the Austrian-Italian border. Following one of Europe’s great trade routes, the train calls at some of Italy’s finest Renaissance towns, before continuing to Innsbruck via the Brenner Alpine pass. The section between Verona, Bolzano and Fortezza is particularly striking as the train traces the river Isarco north in the shadow of the Dolomites, briefly crossing into Austria before arriving into Munich in time for dinner.
The narrow-gauge railway from Nice to Digne les Bains, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region, is a relative unknown in the world of scenic trains. A 90-mile journey taking around three hours, it crosses rivers and passes through enchanting communities such as St Andre les Alpes and Entreveux. This is a private railway, so it often remains undiscovered unless you’re on a tour. However, it’s open for exploration by independent travellers, too, departing Nice CFP station four times per day.
A train trip doesn’t need to be long to be beautiful. The stretch from Messina to Catania in Sicily takes just 90 minutes, but the views of the coast and Ionian Sea are something to remember. If you’re travelling overnight from Rome, you’ll wake at daybreak to find the train being loaded onto a ferry. And from the moment you’re on Sicilian shores until your arrival in Catania you’re spoiled for choice – look east to see the rocky Mediterranean coastline and bobbing fishing boats, and west for none other than the peak of Mount Etna, Europe's tallest active volcano.
The joy of train travel is the transition from one place to another, watching the landscape unfold before you as you cross borders by rail. Starting out in Zurich’s cosmopolitan centre, this train quickly ascends into the Swiss Alps, passing green lakes, quaint villages, and snowy peaks. Just a few hours later you’ll descend into Italy, to the shores of Lake Como, catching a glimpse of the cupola of the cathedral and the lakeside villas bounded by Cypress trees. The Zurich to Como route is done on an everyday InterCity train, with no panoramic windows or fancy title to its name, yet it’s still a stunner of a trip.
The Golden Pass refers to the stretch of railway from Montreux to Lucerne in the Swiss Alps. Though feasible in a day, the route isn’t one to conquer in such a short time, and should be savoured. With countless opportunities to get off and explore, it’s easy to build your own itinerary on Switzerland’s famous scenic railways. The region is home to a host of scenic services, including glass-topped panoramic trains and funicular railways, so it’s little wonder that the Oberland attracts such wide praise from train travellers. Between Lucerne and Interlaken the landscape is exceptionally beautiful, passing the emerald-green waters of Lake Lungern and lakeside hamlets at the Brunig Pass.
Travelling at around 20mph, this scenic train is the epitome of slow travel. But although the Bernina “Express” hardly deserves its title, as it winds through the southern Alps, over bridges, gorges and precarious mountain passes, you wouldn’t want it to go any faster. Crossing some 200 bridges and passing through mountains via 55 tunnels, this is a feat of engineering so impressive that it has earned Unesco World Heritage status. The panoramic train has been designed to offer a ringside seat and as the rails mount the Albula pass to St Moritz, you won’t be disappointed by the views.
Fjords, glaciers and snow-capped peaks provide the spectacle on the Bergen Line, one of Scandinavia’s most impressive train journeys. Travelling from Oslo to Bergen in around seven hours, the trip’s highlights include Europe’s largest mountain plateau, Hardangervidda. But it’s not just the views that impress; the railway itself is extraordinary. More than 15,000 men laid this track into the peaks and dug 182 tunnels out of mountain rock, by hand. Construction started in 1875 – and took 34 years to complete.
An unexpected beauty in Spain, the train between Madrid and Oviedo offers a glimpse of classic Spanish countryside on its way from the capital to the north coast. And as the train approaches the Asturias region, and its principal city Oviedo, it climbs into the clouds, passing through the Picos de Europa mountains. Upon arrival in Oviedo, the train remains the best way to continue your explorations of the area: take a Feve narrow-gauge railway to Galicia and the Basque Country.