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Hong Kong's MTR wins major UK rail franchise

By CONAL URQUHART | China Daily UK | Updated: 2017-03-28 18:01

A rail company partly owned by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has won a competition to run a major British rail franchise.

First MTR was awarded the franchise to run South Western Trains by British Transport Minister Chris Grayling on Monday.

The South Western Trains franchise operates services out of London's Waterloo Station, serving the south and west of London and as far as Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Portsmouth.

First MTR is a consortium consisting of UK's First Group-with 70 percent of the company, and Hong Kong's MTR Corp-with 30 percent. MTR runs the transport system in Hong Kong and other services on the Chinese mainland. It also runs TfL Rail in Britain and will run the trans-London underground service Crossrail when it opens in 2018.

MTR was founded in 1979 by the Hong Kong government but in 2000, roughly 25 percent of its stock was sold to private investors. The Hong Kong SAR retains the rest of the stock.

In an announcement to the British Parliament, Grayling said First MTR South Western Trains Limited will oversee a 1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) investment program and add 22,000 extra seats into London Waterloo each morning and 30,000 extra seats out of Waterloo each evening, as well as buying a fleet of 90 new trains.

He said: "First MTR South Western Trains Limited will use the experience of one of its major shareholders MTR, who operates the busy Hong Kong metro to deliver smooth and rapid journeys for passengers travelling around London's suburban network. Passengers can look forward to more space, ensuring that the railway can support London's growth."

MTR's head of European business, Jeremy Long, said in a statement: "MTR is known across the world for the excellent quality of its rail services, and we look forward to working with FirstGroup to provide a best-in-class travel experience for passengers in London and the South West."

Although First MTR only has a minority foreign stake, the transport minister's decision has led to anger among some trade unionists who oppose giving British railway franchises to entities with a foreign stake.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, said the latest deal would leave 75 percent of UK rail routes in the hands of companies owned by foreign governments.

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