British Rail was broken up and privatised between 1994 and 1997, and since then rail services in the UK have been provided by private companies. There are 16 rail franchises in the UK, where the government gives train companies funding to run services for a certain period. 

Many of the companies that run our trains are European state-owned companies who reinvest millions of pounds a year in dividends from their British operations into their own transport systems. As you'll see, these companies often own franchises within franchises. You might be surprised to learn who owns your morning commute! We've also listed three 'ROSCOs' or rolling stock companies, who lease trains to rail companies.

Read more about the privatisation of rail and what we can do about it here.

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Virgin is a private provider of services. They own contracts in both the NHS under Virgin Care and in our Railways under Virgin Rail Group.

Virgin Care owns 24 GP-led provider companies that provide NHS services through networks of GP surgeries; and community-based NHS services. Virgin Rail Group operates Virgin Trains and part owns a couple of rail franchises.

Virgin Trains West Coast is owned by Virgin Rail Group (51%) and Stagecoach Group (49%). The franchise is due for renewal in 2019.

Until May 2018, the group also owned Virgin Trains East Coast which was a joint venture owned by Stagecoach (90%) and Virgin Rail Group (10%) through a holding company called InterCity Railways Ltd.

Following a failure to meet their contracted profits, and government offering them a bailout, We Own It launched a campaign to have the service brought back into public ownership. At the end of May, it was announced that the service would be run by the Department of Transport through the 'Operator of last resort'.

Richard Branson's VirginCare has bid for many contracts to provide NHS services, but when they lost a bid to an in-house provider in Surrey in 2017, they sued the NHS for millions.


Go-Ahead runs bus services across the South of England and North East England. It is one of the big 5 private bus operators that run 70% of the UK's bus routes.

Go-Ahead runs Govia, which is a joint operation between Go-Ahead Group (65%) and Keolis (35%). Keolis is majority-owned by the French state railway operator SNCF. Govia has a number of subsidiary train franchises, including Govia Thameslink Railway (which runs Thameslink, Great Northern and the troubled Southern franchise), Southeastern and London Midland.

The Govia Thameslink (Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern) franchise is due for renewal in 2021. Southeastern franchise is due for renewal in 2018, and London Midland is due for renewal in 2017

Go-Ahead is a UK plc, listed on the London Stock Exchange. It has its headquarters in Newcastle and grew out of the deregulation of the bus industry in 1986..


Abellio is the international arm of the state-owned Dutch national rail operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen.

Abellio owns a number of rail franchises including Abellio-Scotrail, which runs train services throughout Scotland; Greater Anglia (60% owned by Abellio and 40% by Mitsui, a Japanese corporation); and the Great Eastern franchise, running commuter/suburban services from London Liverpool St throughout the East of England. These franchises are both due for renewal in 2025. 


Arriva was taken over in 2010 by Deutsche Bahn, the German state-owned rail and transport company. It is a multinational transport company, with its headquarters in Sunderland and was established in the 1930s. It is divided into three main components - mainland Europe, UK Trains and UK Bus.

​Arriva UK Bus operates nearly 6,000 buses in the UK.  

Arriva UK Trains runs Arriva Trains Wales (franchise due for renewal in 2018), Northern Rail, which operates train services across the North of England (franchise due for renewal in 2025), and CrossCountry, which operates long-distance and inter-city rail services throughout the country, including UK's longest direct rail service from Aberdeen to Penzance.

Arriva also provides ambulance services in parts of the UK. 

They have come under investigation from the Competition and Markets Authority because of their near-monopolistic hold on bus and train services in the north of England, and have been accused of abandoning passengers by hiking fares and cancelling services.


Stagecoach is one of the big 5 private bus operators that run 70% of the UK's bus routes. With 16% of the bus market and 25% of the rail market, including a 49% stake in Virgin Rail Group, Stagecoach is the second largest transport group in the United Kingdom, close behind First Group. 

Stagecoach and Virgin are behind the notorious East Coast Mainline that connects London to Edinburgh. The route was previously operated by the publicly-owned East Coast. The franchise is due for renewal in 2023.

Stagecoach also partly owns Virgin West Coast Mainline and the East Midlands franchise (which is up for renewal in 2018).

Stagecoach is a UK plc listed on the London Stock Exchange, with its headquarters in Perth.



First group is a British transport company, with its headquarters in Aberdeen. It is the largest transport operator in the UK, and owns Great Western Railways, which operates in South West England and South Wales, the franchise is due for renewal in 2020; and the Transpennine Express which operates in the North of England and Scotland - the franchise is due for renewal in 2023. First operates the South Western franchise running services from London Waterloo across Southern England and the Isle of Wight.

First Group is also the UK's biggest bus operator and runs nearly 9,000 buses across the country.  It also runs transport services in Ireland and the United States. 




National Express is a UK plc listed on the London Stock Exchange, and has its headquarters in Birmingham.

National Express operates local bus services in Scotland and the West Midlands as well as national and international coach services. It is one of the big 5 private bus operators that runs 70% of the UK's buses. They also operate tram and light rail services in the Midlands.

The company ran the failed East Coast Railway before it collapsed and was renationalised in 2009. 


C2C is run by TrenItalia, the state-owned rail operator in Italy.

The company runs services to London Fenchurch Street from Essex. The franchise is due for renewal in 2029


Eversholt Rail Group is one of the three main ROSCOs (Rolling Stock Operating Companies) that were formed in the UK following the privatisation of British Rail in 1994.  It owns and leases trains and locomotives to passenger rail and freight companies, who then deploy the trains to run services.

Since 1994, Eversholt has been owned by a series of investment funds and financial institutions. In 2015 the group was bought by Hong Kong's Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Ltd (CKI), backed by Li Ka-shing, Asia's richest man, for a reported £2.5 billion. 

Angel Trains is owned by a series of foreign investment groups and pension funds. In 2015 it was sold to a group led by Sydney-based investment manager AMP Capital, which is backed by firms including the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, PensionDanmark and Swiss Life Asset Managers. The rest of the stake was sold to Canadian pension scheme investors PSP Investments. Angel’s ownership is currently 55% to AMP, 30% to PSP and 15 % to two Australian superannuation schemes and UK-listed firm INPP. 

Angel Trains is one of the three main ROSCOs (Rolling Stock Operating Companies) that were formed in the UK following the privatisation of British Rail in 1994.  It owns and leases trains and locomotives to passenger rail and freight companies, who then deploy the trains to run services. 


Porterbrook is one of the three main ROSCOs (Rolling Stock Operating Companies) that operate in the UK.  It owns and leases trains and locomotives to passenger rail and freight train operators, who then deploy the trains to run services.

In October 2014 the company was taken over by a consortium that includes Australian asset manager Hastings, Canada’s Alberta Investment Management Corporation,  ultimately owned by the government of Alberta province, Canada; and EDF Invest of France. EDF Group is majority owned by the French government.

Have you seen a story of privatisation failing? Email us the link at info@weownit.org.uk and we'll add it to the list!