Who owns Britain’s trains, energy and postal service?

29 January 2018
What was claimed

The Royal Mail is part-owned by the German government.

Our verdict

We’ve not seen any information on who all of the Royal Mail’s shareholders are and have asked them for more information.

What was claimed

The energy market is mainly owned by the French government.

Our verdict

The French government is a major shareholder in the energy company EDF but not in any of the other Big Six providers. Other international companies have stakes in other members of the Big Six.

What was claimed

The railways are owned by the Dutch and German government.

Our verdict

Governments in Germany, the Netherlands and France are shareholders in the companies and parent companies running around a dozen UK rail franchises.

“The energy market is owned by the French government mainly, your railways are owned by the Dutch and German government and the Royal Mail's part-owned by the German government so they are state-owned, [it’s] just not Great Britain that owns them.”

BBC Question Time audience member, 25 January 2018

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The French government is a major shareholder in one of the Big Six energy providers in the UK. EDF Energy is part of the French EDF Group. The French government is the majority shareholder in the group, with 83% of shares, as of September 2017.

Of the other big six energy companies, E.ON is based in Germany. N Power is part of the Innogy group, another German company. Scottish Power is part of the Iberdrola Group (a company based in Spain).

British Gas is part of UK-based company Centrica. SSE is also a UK-based company.


Railway infrastructure—things like the tracks, signals, level crossings, bridges, and tunnels—is run by Network Rail, which describes itself as a “public company, answerable to Government”. Trains, most smaller stations, and routes are split into franchises run by different companies. Around a dozen of the franchise holders are linked to governments in other countries.

A German company, Deutsche Bahn, runs several UK rail franchises—Arriva Trains Wales, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, Grand Central, and Northern. The German government is Deutsche Bahn’s majority shareholder.

Rail travel in France is run by a state-operated rail company, SNCF. SNCF is also the majority shareholder in a French private transport firm called Keolis which in turn jointly runs railway company Govia with the UK Go-Ahead Group. Govia operates UK franchises: Thameslink, Southern, South Eastern, Great Northern, and Gatwick Express.

Greater Anglia, Stansted Express and Scotrail are all operated by Abellio. Abellio is run by Netherlands Rail whose only shareholder is the Dutch government.

Abellio has partnerships with other businesses to run rail franchises. Along with the Japanese companies Mitsui & Co. and East Japan Railway it runs London Northwestern and West Midlands Rail. Abellio also runs Merseyrail with UK-based Serco.

The c2c franchise is operated by Trenitalia. Trenitalia is part of the FS Italiane Group which is owned by the Italian government.  

Other franchise holders are UK companies FirstGroup, Stagecoach, and Virgin Trains (which is in part run by the Virgin Group and partly by Stagecoach).


Royal Mail was privatised in 2013 and the government sold its final shares in the company in 2015. As of 2016/17, 12% of the company shares were held by employees. We’ve not seen a full list of shareholders and have asked the Royal Mail for more information.

Another delivery company, UK Mail, is part of Deutsche Post DHL Group. 21% of Deutsche Post DHL shares are held by KfW Bankengruppe, whose only shareholders in turn are the German federal government and various German state governments. This may have been what the audience member was referring to.

Correction 7 February 2018

We changed this piece to say that rail franchises were "run" or "operated" by the various companies mentioned, rather than "owned".

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