Union says Hong Kong metro operator will ‘make a killing at taxpayers’ expense’ after surprise announcement by UK government.
The UK government has handed a Chinese state transport and property company a seven-year deal to run one of the Britain’s biggest rail franchises in a controversial deal that brings together train and track operations.
MTR, which operates the Hong Kong metro, will run South West Trains (SWT) with FirstGroup from August, on a promise of delivering faster and more frequent services.
First MTR will take over from Stagecoach, which runs SWT services across south-east England to and from London Waterloo.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said the Chinese company was set to make “a killing at the British taxpayers’ expense”.
But the government said the agreement would mean better services for passengers and heralded a new era in rail transport by uniting train and track operations.
The deal is the first since the government said it planned to bring together train and track operations.
The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said: “First MTR South Western Trains will deliver the improvements that people tell us they want right across the South Western franchise area, from Bristol and Exeter, to Southampton and Portsmouth, to Reading, Windsor and London.
“We are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century and this franchise will deliver real changes for passengers, who can look forward to modern trains, faster journeys and a more reliable service.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, pointed out that the deal would mean about 75% of UK rail routes would soon be operated by state-owned foreign companies, after an Italian state firm took over C2C.