FirstGroup confident of steady rail profits

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The Independent Online

FirstGroup, the operator of some of Britain's busiest rail lines, yesterday admitted that train companies had to win back the public's confidence, following the recent deluge of train delays and safety fears. But the company said it did not expect this year's profits to suffer as a result of recent disruption.

FirstGroup, the operator of some of Britain's busiest rail lines, yesterday admitted that train companies had to win back the public's confidence, following the recent deluge of train delays and safety fears. But the company said it did not expect this year's profits to suffer as a result of recent disruption.

Moir Lockhead, chief executive of FirstGroup, yesterday conceded that people lacked confidence in the railway, but insisted: "People really want to use trains. Once the track that needs renewing is renewed and we get all the cleaning up done from the floods, companies will be able to win back confidence." FirstGroup operates the Great Western, Great Eastern and North Western lines. One of its Great Western trains was involved in the 1999 Ladbroke Grove train crash which claimed 31 lives.

Mr Lockhead's comments came as the company, which runs train and bus operations in the UK and US, unveiled better than expected half-year results. Pre-tax profits were up 7 per cent to £58.9m for the six months to 30 September, driven by a 10 per cent increase in operating profit in its US bus division. In the UK, FirstGroup saw a 7.6 per cent year-on-year rise in passenger volumes on its trains.

Mr Lockhead said: "We didn't expect that kind of increase in passenger numbers. But it shows that the recovery of patronage can be quick and we believe that there will not be an adverse impact on the business over the year due to the recent problems."

Mr Lockhead said FirstGroup was spending £100,000 a year on training courses for all staff. It is also the first company to install automatic train protection on all trains on a high speed line in the UK.

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