The Government is planning to end an anomaly which allows train companies who also own bus companies to receive grants for providing replacement bus services when stretches of the rail network are closed.
A practice known as “bustitution” allows train operators to pocket millions of pounds from days of disruption while their passengers endure longer journeys. Not only do train firms receive compensation from Network Rail when their lines are unavailable, but they can also claim Bus Service Operators Grant when they one of their associated companies lays on a relief service.
Rail minister Norman Baker is expected to announce plans to end the practice of “double dipping” - whereby train operators receive Bus Service Operators Grant when they one of their associated companies lays on a relief service – later this week.
“I have been pushing train operating companies to reduce their reliance on decanting all their passengers onto buses at the weekend – I hope this will act as an extra push to make them think again," says the minister.
“Network Rail is happy to get possession of the track so they can do work and train operators are happy to receive the grant, the only person who loses out is the passenger.”
“I am not convinced that train companies are doing as much as they can to avoid replacement buses,” he added. He might have a point.
According to official figures quoted in the national media, First Group’s specialist rail replacement bus company received £2.5 million for running replacement buses in three years.
Other DfT figures showed that Stagecoach’s specialist rail replacement bus firm received more than £74,000 in the six months ending September 2009, whilst National Express received £280,000 in 2010 for providing buses and coaches for rail replacement duties.
However, some reckon the real figure is likely to be much higher once the grant paid to dozens of local offshoots of the big bus-train conglomerates is taken into account.