National Express Group plc
TypePublic limited
IndustryPublic transport
Founded1972: National Express branding
1992: National Express Group plc
FounderNational Bus Company
HeadquartersBirmingham, England
Area served
  • Europe
  • North America
Key people
RevenueIncrease £2,170.3 million (2021)[1]
Increase £87.0 million (2021)[1]
Increase £(77.9) million (2021)[1]
Number of employees
51,000 (2022)[2]

National Express Group is a British multinational public transport company headquartered in Birmingham, England.[3] It operates bus, coach, train and tram services in the United Kingdom, Ireland (National Express operates Eurolines in conjunction with Bus Éireann), United States, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Malta, Germany, Bahrain, and Morocco and long-distance coach services across Europe. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.


Duple Dominant bodied Leyland Tiger in Liverpool in 1982 in the original livery
Duple Dominant bodied Leyland Tiger in Liverpool in 1982 in the original livery
Midland Mainline High Speed Train at London St Pancras
Travel London Alexander ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident 2 at Trafalgar Square in April 2008

In 1972, the state-owned National Bus Company decided to bring together the scheduled coach services operated by its bus operating companies in the United Kingdom under one brand. Sir Frederick Wood, a prominent businessman and industrialist, was asked to oversee the creation of this new business model and led the group as its chairman from 1972 to 1978.[4] Initially branded as National, the National Express brand was first used in 1974.[5][6]

With the privatisation of the National Bus Company in the 1980s, National Express was subject to a management buyout in March 1988. The management team began to diversify, and in 1989 they purchased Crosville Wales[7] but its financial performance began to deteriorate from early 1990. A new management team took over the company in July 1991, with the backing of mid-market private equity firm, ECI Partners. The new team refocused the group on its core activities and sold Crosville Wales to British Bus.[8] In October 1991, it purchased Speedlink, an operator of coach services between Gatwick and Heathrow Airports.[6] In December 1992, National Express Group plc was floated on the London Stock Exchange.[5]

Acquisitions and disposals

In 1993, Scottish Citylink, Eurolines and East Midlands Airport were acquired.[9][10] In April 1995 National Express purchased West Midlands Travel, the formerly council owned bus network of Birmingham and the West Midlands[5] and rebranded it Travel West Midlands in September 1996. This began the brand family of Travel ... local bus operations. Bournemouth Airport was acquired in April 1995.[11]

In April 1996, National Express commenced operating its first UK rail franchises, Gatwick Express and Midland Mainline. Other franchises won in 1997 were Silverlink, Central Trains and ScotRail. To comply with a Monopolies & Mergers Commission ruling on it winning the ScotRail franchise, National Express sold the Scottish Citylink operation to Metroline in August 1998.[12][13]

In February 1997, Taybus Public Transport was acquired and rebranded Travel Dundee.[14]

In September 1998, Crabtree-Harmon, the seventh-largest student transportation bus company in the United States was acquired, with 82 school bus contracts mainly in Missouri, but also in other Midwest states including Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Utah. In February 1999, Robinson Bus Service was purchased followed in August 1999 by Durham Transportation. These acquisitions placed National Express as one of the top three United States school bus operators.[15]

In May 1999, National Express purchased Australia's largest private bus operator, National Bus Company.[16] National Bus Company had bus operations in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth, and also held a 57% shareholding in Westbus, Sydney's largest bus operator. Westbus also had a London coach operation.[17] In August 1999, National Express won the M>Train, M>Tram and V/Line Passenger rail franchises in the Australian state of Victoria.[18][19]

In January 2000, National Express expanded into the American market by acquiring ATC, a public transportation operator.[20] In July 2000, Prism Rail was purchased adding the c2c, Wales & Borders, Wessex Trains and West Anglia Great Northern franchises to National Express' portfolio.[21][22]

In December 2002, National Express handed in its Victorian rail franchises having been unable to renegotiate financial terms with the State Government.[23][24]

In February 2004, the London bus operations of Connex were purchased and rebranded Travel London.[25] In April 2004, National Express East Anglia commenced operating the Greater Anglia rail franchise.[26] In September 2004, National Express sold its Melbourne bus operations to Ventura Bus Lines, and Brisbane and Perth bus operations to Connex.[27][28] After being placed in administration in January 2005, Westbus was sold to ComfortDelGro Cabcharge in August 2005.[29][30]

In June 2005, the London bus arm of Tellings-Golden Miller was purchased and also rebranded Travel London.[31] In July 2005, National Express sold ATC to Connex.[32] In October 2005, National Express agreed to buy most of the operations of privately owned Spanish transport operator ALSA, which operates bus and coach services in Spain, Portugal and Morocco, and long-distance coach services to other parts of Europe. Alsa's operations in South America and China were retained by the previous owners.[33]

In April 2007, National Express acquired Continental Auto, the second-largest bus and coach operator in Spain.[34]

Dot2Dot Volkswagen in London in April 2008
Dot2Dot Volkswagen in London in April 2008

In November 2007, South East England coach operator The Kings Ferry was purchased[35] and an airport to hotel shuttle service in London branded Dot2Dot was launched.[36] It was not successful and ceased in November 2008.[37]

In November 2007, National Express announced plans to re-brand all of their operations under a new unified National Express identity.[38] It was intended to achieve greater recognition for all the group companies, to coincide with recent acquisitions and after current rail operations had improved in reliability to warrant association with the established express coach image. It coincided with the appointment of a group director for all UK operations and relocation of the head office from London to Birmingham, bringing all operations under a single strategic management structure. Day-to-day management remains within individual companies.[39]

In December 2007, National Express East Coast commenced operating the InterCity East Coast franchise.[40] In May 2009, National Express sold Travel London and Travel Surrey to Abellio.[41]

In February 2013, National Express Germany was awarded two regional rail contracts by the Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr, Zweckverband Nahverkehr Rheinland and Zweckverband Nahverkehr Westfalen-Lippe authorities that commenced in December 2015.[42][43]

In January 2015, the Bayerische Eisenbahngesellschaft announced that National Express had been selected to operate the Nuremberg S-Bahn system from December 2018. It was to have been the first Deutsche Bahn S-Bahn network to be taken over by a private operator.[44] However, in October 2016, National Express elected to pull out, citing a delay in the ability to order new rolling stock while a challenge brought on by Deutsche Bahn was resolved, would make its bid unviable.[45]

In June 2015, it was announced that the parts 2 and 3 of the Rhein-Ruhr-Express which will be introduced in 2018 will be operated by National Express. This includes Regional-Express services RE4, RE5 and RE6 in Northrhine-Westphalia.[46]

In December 2016, coach operator Clarkes of London was purchased with 56 vehicles.[47][48] In March 2020, Lucketts Travel was purchased.[49][50]

Default on East Coast rail franchise

National Express East Coast High Speed Train at London King's Cross in July 2009

In July 2009, the Department for Transport announced that it would take the National Express East Coast franchise into public ownership at the end of the year after National Express announced it would not invest any further funds into the franchise, effectively declaring it planned to default.[51] Directly Operated Railways took over the East Coast franchise on 14 November 2009.[52] Also in November 2009 the government announced that National Express East Anglia would not be granted a three-year extension that it had otherwise qualified for, because of the East Coast default.[53]

Operational safety concerns

On 3 January 2007, a speeding National Express coach overturned on the M4/M25 slip road, leaving three passengers dead. The driver was jailed for five years.[54]

In July 2009, a junior transport minister, the Gillingham MP Paul Clark, spelled out a series of concerns to National Express in a letter following a meeting with an employee of National Express East Coast who lives in his constituency. The worker claimed that due to reduced maintenance checks, some trains were in use with defective brakes, an allegation strongly denied by the company, which said it would "never compromise on safety". He wrote: "As a result of reduced maintenance checks, 'some long-haul sets [trains] are in use with brake defects'. Increasing cuts in staff combined with an increasing pressure to ensure that trains run safely has resulted in fears among staff that a major accident is 'just around the corner'." Passengers, he added, "have been 'poisoned' as a result of coffee machines not being cleaned correctly, with cleaning fluids left in situ". The minister said he was "shocked and appalled at the information with which I've been provided. You will understand that these allegations are exceptionally serious".[55]

School bus drivers in the US have raised concerns about the safety of the buses run by Durham, a subsidiary of National Express, and the second-largest operator of school bus services in North America. According to representatives of Durham bus drivers, fluid leaks, tyres that need to be replaced, black mould and non-functional emergency equipment are regular concerns, whilst workers continued to operate buses while sick because they cannot afford to miss a day of work and drivers are not paid for all the time they work.[56]

Offers for the company

Park's of Hamilton Plaxton Elite bodied Volvo B9R in Bolton in April 2013

With the company's finances under stress largely as a result of having overbid for the National Express East Coast rail franchise, National Express became a takeover target in 2009. In June 2009, a takeover offer from fellow transport operator FirstGroup was rejected.[57] On 3 September 2009, National Express' largest shareholder, Spain's Cosmen family with 18.5%, and CVC Capital Partners made a takeover offer of £765 million for the company.[58][59] The Takeover Panel set a deadline of 11 September 2009 for all prospective bids.[60]

National Express agreed to allow the Cosmen/CVC consortium to undertake due diligence in September 2009.[61] The Cosmen/CVC consortium had reached an agreement to sell the UK bus and rail operations to Stagecoach Group if its offer was successful.[62] The deadline for offers was subsequently extended to 16 October 2009.[63]

On 16 October 2009, the Cosmen/CVC consortium withdrew their offer.[64][65] with Stagecoach submitting a new all-share bid later the same day.[66][67] This too did not proceed and in November 2009 National Express announced it would raise the necessary capital through a share issue.[68] In September 2021, National Express entered into talks to acquire Stagecoach Group.[69] In December 2021, a deal was agreed between the boards of the two companies: however, it was subject to both shareholder approval and regulatory scrutiny.[70] Having originally recommended shareholders accept the National Express offer, in March 2022 the Stagecoach board of directors withdrew its recommendation in favour of a takeover offer from a DWS managed investment fund.[71]


National Express West Midlands Wright Eclipse Gemini bodied Volvo B7TL in Birmingham in September 2010
The Kings Ferry Caetano Levante bodied Volvo B13R in May 2013
ALSA Setra S319GT-HD coach in Spain
ALSA Setra S319GT-HD coach in Spain
Durham School Services school bus in New York City
A National Express coach on route A6 at Victoria Coach Station
A National Express coach on route A6 at Victoria Coach Station

National Express' operations are summarised below:[72]


Bus and coach

The bus and coach services operated by the group are:



National Express Germany operates a number of train services in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.[74]

Following the financial difficulties of Abellio GmbH, National Express was awarded an emergency contract to operate further services in North Rhine-Westphalia from February 2022 to run for two years.[75]

USA and Canada


Middle East


In February 2015, the Bahrain Public Transport Company in which National Express holds a 50% shareholding commenced operating a 10-year concession in Bahrain.[82]

Former operations


Bus and coach


In May 2009, National Express sold some of its bus operations to Abellio:

In December 2020, National Express sold its Xplore Dundee business to McGill's Bus Services.[83]


Railway and tram


Rail franchises formerly operated:

London & Continental Railways

National Express had a 17.5% shareholding in London & Continental Railways (L&CR) from its formation in September 1994 until it was nationalised by the Government of the United Kingdom in 2009. L&CR was responsible for building the High Speed 1 project. National Express also held a 40% stake in the Inter-Capital and Regional Rail consortium which held the management contract for the UK arm of the Eurostar operation, L&CR's subsidiary Eurostar International from 1998 to 2010.[86][87]


In the 1990s National Express moved into the privatisation of airports, purchasing East Midlands, Bournemouth, and Humberside Airports. In a move to concentrate on bus and rail provision, Humberside was sold to Manchester Airports Group in 1999 followed by Bournemouth and East Midlands in February 2001.[88][89]

Until November 2007 the group also operated Stewart International Airport in New Windsor, New York. However, the lease was sold to the public Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.[90]

Australian operations

Bus and coach

Australian bus companies previously operated:

Railway and tram

In 1999, the Group gained the Australian franchises M>Train, M>Tram and V/Line Passenger, following the privatisation of rail and tram services by the Government of Victoria. After incurring large losses and being unable to renegotiate the franchise contracts, the operations were handed back to the State Government. M>Train was re-let to Connex and M>Tram to Transdev. V/Line became a government-owned corporation.[91]

USA and Canada

Bus and coach

In popular culture

National Express features in a song, entitled National Express by the Divine Comedy, released in 1998.[94]



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