TOKYO -- East Japan Railway, Dutch rail operator Abellio and Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co. won a license to operate the U.K.'s West Midlands rail network starting in December, it was announced Thursday, marking JR East's first time running trains abroad.
The consortium will operate a roughly 900km network -- which serves around 74 million riders annually, including commuter links to London and a long-distance line between Liverpool and the capital -- for about 10 years. The bid price was not disclosed.
British-French joint venture Govia, the network's current operator, was the only other bidder. A decision had been expected as early as June, but likely was delayed due to the U.K. general election.
The Japanese-Dutch consortium's proposal touted safe and on-time train operations. West Midlands trains run on schedule about 90% of the time, but the new group wants to reduce delays further and improve service to increase ridership.
With little hope for rail business growth in Japan, JR East is looking for opportunities overseas. The operator of Tokyo's busy Yamanote loop line and bullet train lines in northern Japan is handling maintenance for Thailand's urban rail system opened in August 2016. It is also bidding to operate Britain's South Eastern rail network in partnership with Abellio and Mitsui.
The U.K.'s railways privatization in the 1990s split train network operation from maintenance of stations, rails and other infrastructure. Operators are chosen via bidding.