Go-Ahead, the bus and train operator which runs two of the biggest commuter rail franchises in the country, rewarded investors yesterday with a bumper dividend increase and a pledge to repurchase up to 10 per cent of its shares.
The operator of the Thameslink and Southern rail networks increased its interim dividend by 36 per cent to 15p a share and began a share buy-back programme worth up to £80m to investors. The double bonus for shareholders came on the back of increased first-half profits and a sustained rise in passenger numbers on both its rail and bus routes.
Go-Ahead's punctuality levels also improved, although they still lag behind the average for rail commuter services in London and the South-east.
Pre-tax profits for the six months to 1 January were up by 16 per cent to £52.9m while turnover remained stable despite the loss of the Thames Train franchise.
Passenger numbers on Southern, which operates the London to Brighton mainline, were up by 6.6 per cent and are now back to their pre-Hatfield levels of growth. Passenger volume was also 1.2 per cent higher on Thameslink, despite the disruption caused by a line blockade at King's Cross which forces rail users to switch trains to complete through journeys across London.
The latest performance figures from the Strategic Rail Authority show that punctuality for the July to September period last year increased from 68 per cent to 81 per cent on Thameslink and from 81 to 82 per cent on Southern services. Congestion has got worse, however, on Thameslink because the company is having to use shorter trains.
Go-Ahead's chief executive Chris Moyes, who owns 4 per cent of the company, said he hoped that punctuality levels on Thameslink could be maintained when the blockade ends in May.
He said he was confident that the SRA would proceed with plans to scrap the Gatwick Express and integrate the service into Southern, despite a protest campaign led by the airport operator BAA. "I don't think the SRA is going to back down because the benefits to the great majority of passengers using the Brighton mainline are so much greater."
Mr Moyes also said he was hopeful of winning one of the three rail franchises for which Go-Ahead is bidding Integrated Kent, Great Western and a new seven-year Thameslink concession. Its bid for the new Integrated Kent franchise, which is being formed from the existing South Eastern Trains route and will incorporate high-speed commuter services into St Pancras, is being made in partnership with the French group Keolis. South Eastern Trains is being run in the public sector after the sacking of the previous operator Connex and there have been calls from Labour MPs for it to remain under state ownership in light of its improved performance.
But Mr Moyes described this as "a fairly natural old Labour viewpoint" which the Government seemed determined to ignore.
Go-Ahead's bus division continued to expand with profits up from £27.8m to £29.1m although the group cautioned that growth in London, where it runs one in five buses, would be lower than in the past two years when the introduction of the congestion charge has resulted in increased services. The company is bidding to take over the publicly run local bus service in Bournemouth to add to its existing Wilts & Dorset business which runs services in nearby Poole.Reuse content