Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Aberdeen’s FirstGroup eyes European rail market

Renewed overseas ambition revealed alongside full-year results showing losses of £24.4 million.

One of the group's buses outside Marischal College in Aberdeen.
One of the group's buses outside Marischal College in Aberdeen. Image: First Bus

Transport giant FirstGroup, of Aberdeen, is eyeing expansion opportunities in mainland Europe.

It is “continuing to monitor developments in the European rail market”.

The London-listed firm added: “As the market opens up for competition, there are opportunities for new open access entrants with similar regulatory models to the UK.”

Open access operators set their own fares, take on all revenue risk and receive no taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Is FirstGroup about to enter international markets again?

FirstGroup has its roots in a management buyout of Grampian Transport, in 1989, by Sir Moir Lockhead.

Getting involved at any level elsewhere in Europe would be the firm’s first foray overseas since it sold its contract bus and inter-city coach services in North America a few years ago.

Since then, it has been wholly focused on its UK bus and rail operations, including Aberdeen-based First Bus.

The potential for branching out in rail was signalled in full-year results from the group.

One of FirstGroup's Avanti West Coast trains.
One of FirstGroup’s Avanti West Coast trains. Image: FirstGroup

Shares in the company fell nearly 3% today, to 164.8p, despite it reporting pre-tax losses of £24.4 million for the 53 weeks to March 30.

This is compared with profits of £128.7m a year earlier.

Revenue for the latest period came in at £4.71 billion, down slightly from £4.75bn previously.

FirstGroup said its plunge into the red was driven by charges of £146.9m after its decision to pull out of two local government pension schemes. It highlighted adjusted operating profits of £204.3m for the year to March 2024, up from £161m previously.

First Aberdeen bus.
First Aberdeen bus. Image: Shutterstock

The firm also announced a final dividend of 4p per share, taking the full-year total to 5.5p, and said it returned £118m to investors via buyback programmes during 2023-24.

First Bus racked up 1.14 million passenger journeys and 167m service miles a day in the latest period, generating total revenue of about £1bn – up from £902.5m the year before. Despite ongoing inflationary pressures, adjusted operating profits increased by £25.2m to £83.6m

First Rail delivered 274m passenger journeys and total revenue of £3.74bn, down from £3.89bn previously, in 2023-24.

Former FirstGroup chief executive Sir Moir Lockhead.
Former FirstGroup chief executive Sir Moir Lockhead, who led the management buyout of Grampian Transport in 1989. Image: Raymond Besant/DC Thomson

Chief executive Graham Sutherland said: “We have made considerable progress in our financial and operational performance in FY 2024 as we continue to transform and grow our leading First Bus and First Rail businesses.

“This is testament to the resilience and capability of our people across the group, and leaves us well positioned to grow and create further value for all our stakeholders.”

FirstGroup chief executive Graham Sutherland.
FirstGroup chief executive Graham Sutherland. Image: Malcolm Cochrane Photography

He added: “Our focus remains on working with government and all our stakeholders to deliver for our customers and drive modal shift. We will continue to lead in environmental and social sustainability, including building out our adjacent electrification opportunities in First Bus, and investing to grow and diversify our portfolio to ensure our business remains profitable and resilient in the long-term.”

FirstGroup’s UK-wide bus and rail operations

First Bus is one of the largest regional bus operators in the UK, serving two-thirds of the 15 largest conurbations. The division employs about 12,800 people across its route network and 51 depots.

First Rail, with 17,500 employees, accounts for about 24% of all UK train services.

Conversation