Rail directors scoop pounds 4.4m jackpot

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FIVE directors of Thames Trains yesterday shared in a pounds 4.4m bonanza following the sale of the privatised rail operator to a bus company.

The Go-Ahead Group, which already owned 65 per cent of the shares, is buying out the remainder, netting profits of nearly pounds 900,000 for each of the directors who held a 25 per cent stake.

The five, led by managing director Roger McDonald, each invested pounds 10,000 to buy 10,000 shares in Thames Trains. They will be sitting on pounds 880,000 each following the sale, just 17 months after the business was bought from the Government.

Over the same period punctuality on Thames Trains has fallen to the point where automatic customer discounts are triggered. And the latest customer satisfaction survey by John O'Brien, the franchising director, shows increasing numbers of complaints about on-board comfort and the condition of station toilets.

Apart from Mr McDonald, the four other directors sharing in the bonanza are Christopher Scanlon, Nicholas Illsley, Kevin Harrison and David Raymond.

About 250 employees of Thames Trains who bought shares at the time of privatisation will also receive a windfall, sharing in a pounds 1.7m profit worth an average of pounds 6,800.

According to the latest Opraf figures, punctuality on Thames Trains was 84.5 per cent last November. This compares with its charter standard of 92 per cent and the 89 per cent figure at which it has to start paying discounts to season ticket holders.

The company operates services between London Paddington and Oxford via Maidenhead and Reading. It also has a service between Reading and Gatwick airport.

Thames Trains has six years left of its seven and a half year franchise awarded in October, 1996 and is receiving subsidies worth pounds 28m a year falling to zero by the end of the franchise period.

In the nine months to the end of June, 1997 it made pre-tax profits of pounds 700,000 and had net assets at that date of pounds 600,000.

Mr O'Brien said that as part of the takeover, Go-Ahead has agreed to a number of service improvements. It is to spend an additional pounds 500,000 on station facilities, improve compensation arrangements under the Passengers' Charter and introduce a through service between Oxford and Bristol by October of this year at the latest.

Go-Ahead has also undertaken to introduce bus/rail through-ticketing from at least five destinations from September.