Abellio was established in 2001 by the National Railway Company of the Netherlands (NS), which was looking to acquire and operate passenger transport services outside the Netherlands. In 2003, the new company won its first contract, the Merseyrail franchise in the UK, in partnership with international service provider, Serco. The following year, the partners went on to win Northern Rail, the largest train franchise in the UK. In 2008, Abellio acquired National Express’s bus operations, Travel London, and now operates buses on 89 routes across central, south and west London and Surrey. Most recently, in 2012 the company won the Greater Anglia franchise.
Today, Abellio employs over 11,000 people in the UK and serves almost one million passengers a day on its 5190 daily train services and 89 bus routes.
“The UK is our biggest market,” says Jeff Hoogesteger, CEO of Abellio. “The level playing field means that we can compete equally for contracts alongside British companies. Since winning our first rail franchise in 2003, we have introduced a variety of innovative services to the UK, ranging from combined ticket offices and convenience stores at Merseyrail, to the new CyclePoint facility at Northern Rail’s Leeds station. This reflects our commitment to exceeding expectations, delivering value for money and taking a long term view of what we aim to achieve.”
Over the years, UKTI has had frequent and wide-ranging contact with senior members of Abellio’s Board, including its former and current CEOs. UKTI has arranged meetings for the company with UK Government Ministers and invited it to attend various networking events. Abellio has also joined initiatives to promote business between the UK and the Netherlands, such as the UK-Netherlands Strategic Business Dialogue Meeting that UKTI co-hosted in London in April 2011.
In October 2012, in celebration of Dutch investment in the UK, Paul Arkwright, British Ambassador to the Netherlands, and Lord Stephen Green, Minister of State for Trade and Investment, hosted a dinner at the British Ambassador’s Residence in The Hague. Abellio attended the event, where it was awarded the UKTI Netherlands Investment Award in recognition of its expansion in the UK through the successful bid for the Greater Anglia franchise.
“We were honoured to receive the UKTI Netherlands Investment Award in recognition of our success in the UK market,” says Jeff. “In achieving what we have, we’ve worked with government departments, passenger transport executives and councils in the design and implementation of our new services. UKTI has been very supportive of us along the way, which we appreciate. We are committed to best practice exchange, and support initiatives that promote dialogue between the UK and the Netherlands. Indeed, we ourselves have adapted the best features of the Dutch Railway for the UK market.”
Planning pays off
Running the Greater Anglia franchise meant that Abellio would have to deal with the increased passenger numbers that the London Olympics would generate, in particular at Stratford Station at the Olympic site. Drawing on NS’s experience in the Netherlands, the company put in place plans for managing crowd safety and ensuring the reliability of services.
During the Olympics, Greater Anglia welcomed almost 1.3 million additional passengers on its London-bound services. The company provided an average of 150,000 extra seats a day, increasing capacity by over 25 per cent. Over 600 trains a day called at Stratford, with 94.9 per cent arriving on time. Extra customer service staff worked across the network, and contingencies were put in place so that if key events overran, as actually happened with the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, trains could be held back to wait for passengers.
In February 2013, Abellio was awarded the accolade of Train Operator of the Year at the UK Rail Industry Awards. This was a significant endorsement of the improvements made by the company to the Greater Anglia line in areas such as punctuality, customer services and ticketing. It was also complimented for its excellent service during the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Then, in June 2013, Abellio won the Cross-Industry Partnership Award at the national Railway Industry Innovation Awards for its impressive performance and customer service standards, achieved in partnership with Network Rail and Transport for London, during the Games.
“These awards are a tribute to the commitment and dedication of our employees,” says Jeff. “The Olympics really put us under the microscope, especially as the press had predicted widespread transport failures around Games time. With a train arriving at or leaving Stratford Station every 12 seconds, it was a huge undertaking to make sure that everything ran smoothly. It was a joint effort together with the other train operators running services in and out of the station.”