British group is said to be ahead of Deutsche Bahn in race to win contracts to run revamped Rhine-Ruhr Express services, worth more than £1.4bn


Visualisation of an RRX Desiro double deck train at Cologne Central Station


National Express Group is being tipped in Germany to win the largest set of train operating contracts let in the country to date, covering operation of expanded Rhine-Ruhr Express (RRX) services in North Rhine Westphalia.

Senior Deutsche Bahn executives have publicly admitted defeat suggesting that its bids suffered from staff costs which it claimed are 10% higher than its competitors and higher costs from its use of renewable energy to power trains.

The three contracts were due to have been awarded at the end of March but the announcement is now expected in June. Ahead of the decision, several German newspapers named NEG as the frontrunner and quoted senior DB Regio officials including chief executive Manfred Rudhart as assessing their company’s chances as “very low”.

The plans to transform the RRX service are billed as one of the biggest railway projects in Europe. Infrastructure upgrades and new 160kmh trains will enable regional express services on routes serving cities including Cologne, Dusseldorf and Dortmund to run at 15-minute frequencies. Improvements will be introduced in stages following the start of the RRX contract in December 2018. A fleet of 82 Siemens Desiro double deck trains has been ordered for the project. Revenue for the three 12-year contracts operating over 14 million train kilometres per year is worth more than €2bn (£1.4bn).

If confirmed, the contract awards will underline NEG’s capability to challenge DB for its core business. The British group is currently contesting DB’s successful appeal against the initial award of the Nuremberg S-Bahn franchise to National Express Germany (PT 108) – the first time DB had lost a major S-Bahn contract.

In addition, NEG is shortlisted for several other German rail contracts. It will start its first operations in the country in December on two North Rhine-Westphalia commuter contracts awarded in 2013.

In a trading update, NEG also outlined details of current bids to extend its footprint in the Middle East, after winning the contract to operate Bahrain’s bus network, and expand in Portugal. It is currently bidding for a 400-vehicle urban bus contract in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, and is preparing bids to operate Lisbon’s underground Metro system and bus services in the city.

In the UK, National Express Group’s new c2c franchise is trading ahead of expectations, with revenue and patronage growth beating the forecasts made in its bid for the franchise. NEG said revenue had grown 10% since starting the new contract in November and patronage had risen 4%. Revenue growth of 9% had been forecast in the first year.

The group expects to report strong strong full year results from its West Midlands bus division, driven by cost control and increasing passenger demand.


This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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