Rail firms have been handed £2.3billion by the government to keep trains running since the pandemic began, new figures show.
Fourteen operators shared the huge cash sum between March 1 and June 27 as passenger numbers plummeted during the pandemic.
Under the Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs), the government took on all the risk of operating the railway – but also took on all the revenues, including as passenger numbers pick up.
Today it was announced the train firms’ revenues – and their debts – will now appear on government balance sheets in a major shake-up.
The Office for National Statistics concluded operators “should be classified to the public sector for statistical purposes” due to the emergency measures.
The Rail Delivery Group said it was a “temporary accounting change” while the Department for Transport said private firms “will continue to play a vital role”.
But TSSA rail union general secretary Manuel Cortes claimed the change meant railways are “now in public ownership.”
He called for Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to “come clean” and “take direct control of running them – rather than continue to line the pockets of fleecing privateers with taxpayers’ money.”
The emergency programme has a budget of £3.5bn for six months. It has not yet decided if it will continue beyond September.
The largest sum went to Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, which received £367m.
Great Western received £304m.
Every private rail operator entered into the emergency arrangements.
Despite non-essential shops and some school classes reopening in June, the payment to operators was almost as much in June (£666m) as April (£694m).
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We have taken unprecedented steps to protect our railway throughout the pandemic, using emergency measures to keep trains running for key workers, protect thousands of frontline jobs and ensure our railways stand ready to support our national recovery from Covid-19.
“Today’s decision simply reflects those temporary agreements.
“It will have no effect on passengers, staff, or the running of our railway, and we fully intend that private operators will continue to play a vital role in delivering better rail journeys.”