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UK rail strikes fuel rebound in fortunes at National Express

<span>Photograph: John Stillwell/PA</span>
Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

National Express has reported a further rebound in passengers and a rise in revenues after it stepped up services during rail strikes and helped shuttle police during the Queen’s funeral.

The coach and bus operator said revenues rose by 33% in the three months to the end of September and were now above 2019 levels, thanks in part to strong growth in its UK and Spanish coach business.

In the UK, it said demand was partly driven by industrial action on the country’s train network. That included August strikes by rail operators that halted intercity trains across Britain.

National Express said its own staff pay negotiations were “ongoing and progressing” in line with expectations.

It also experienced a rise in demand for coaches when Metropolitan police were dispatched after the Queen’s death in September.

“Our ability to react quickly to events means that we were able to provide more services during rail strikes, and we were proud to play a part in supporting the Metropolitan police during the Queen’s funeral,” National Express said in a trading update on Thursday.

“On several of our core UK intercity corridors, we are now seeing demand well in excess of 2019 levels.”

The bus operator has been one of the beneficiaries of an £88m grant obtained by Transport for West Midlands, which has frozen fares for passengers and supported National Express as passenger numbers continue to recover after the Covid pandemic.

Fuel prices have continued to rise amid the war in Ukraine, but National Express said it was “well-positioned” to weather the rise, thanks to hedging contracts over the next two years.

It is still licking its wounds after being snubbed by its rival Stagecoach after a merger proposal. Stagecoach instead struck a £595m deal earlier this year to be taken over by DWS, a major German infrastructure fund.

The National Express chief executive, José Ignacio Garat, said he was pleased with the group’s performance over the past quarter, saying it was “another period of operational progress and revenue growth”.

“We are well positioned for the current inflationary environment with long-term supply contracts, fuel hedging, and a proven ability to pass through price increases over time. While we are mindful of the challenges we face in our sector, we are confident in our … strategy and look forward to making further progress.”