Which train operating companies are run by other countries’ governments?

23 June 2022
What was claimed

A list shows 17 train operating companies in the UK that are owned in full or part by the French, German, Dutch, Italian or Hong Kong states.

Our verdict

The list is out of date, as ScotRail, Northern and Transport for Wales rail have since been nationalised and are now run by the Scottish, UK and Welsh governments respectively.

An image spreading on Facebook claims to show which train operating companies are owned in full or part by foreign states.

Most of the claims about which companies are owned by states from abroad are correct. (We haven’t checked all the claims about dates or how many stations the companies cover.)

However, the list is out of date, as three of the companies it lists have recently been nationalised and are now owned by the Scottish, UK and Welsh governments respectively:

  • Northern. The post claims Northern has been fully or partly German state-owned since 2016. It was previously run by Arriva, which was taken over by Deutsche Bahn, owned by the German government. But Northern was nationalised in March 2020 and is now owned by a subsidiary of the Department for Transport.
  • Transport for Wales rail. The train operating company part of Transport for Wales has also been nationalised, since February 2021. The post claimed it has been run by the French state since 2018, and it is true that it was part-owned by the French state until it changed hands. It was operated by KeolisAmey, a joint venture between a company called Amey and transport firm Keolis, which is majority-owned by France’s state-owned railway operator SNCF.

Where does the image come from?

The image shows a mocked-up rail departure board listing when rail companies moved to foreign ownership. It appears to date back to at least September 2019, which would explain why it doesn’t include the updates in ownership since 2020.

How does franchising work?

The firms listed in the image are mainly train operating companies (TOCs), which run passenger rail services, and usually lease the trains and most stations from rolling stock companies and network operators. 

Most passenger services are run by privately owned TOCs under franchise deals with companies like Arriva and Abellio, as a result of contracts awarded by the Department for Transport. However, franchising is set to be replaced with a new system where the revenue from fares goes to the public sector and private operators are paid a fee to run services.

The list on Facebook does not include all train operating companies in the UK.

Image courtesy of Ross Sneddon

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as missing context because the list is out of date as three operators have since been nationalised.

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