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Facts Sheet 9: Rail versus road: Passenger Rolling Stock costs

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May 2005 estimates

  1. This note shows that the annual cost of passenger rail rolling stock is 3 to 4 times that of the equivalent motor coach.
  2. The annual costs of capital is here defined as that sum which if paid annually will repay capital plus interest, set at the Treasury Discount rate of 3.5%, over the lifetime of the vehicle.
  3. Railway carriages cost at least £1 million each and may have and have75 seats. Modern stock may last 30 years. The capital recovery factor is 0.054. Hence the annual cost of the capital is £54,400. Annual maintenance may set to 7.5% of capital providing £75,000. Hence the total is £129,400 annually or £1750 per seat per year
  4. A basic express coach with 50 seats may cost £150,000. The vehicle may last 21 years. 7 of which may be in "first use", 7 in "second use" and 7 in "third use" e.g. as a school bus. Against that background we will here assume a life of 15 years. As for rail we will also assume annual maintenance at 7.5% of capital although we have the range 2% to 12.5% from the industry. On that basis, and with interest again set at 3.5%, the annual cost per seat is £485 - 3.6 times less than for the railway carriage.

February 2015 estimates

Set the Railway carriage to £1.5m with 75 seats and its life to 30 years as above.

As previously the Capital Recovery Factor over 30 years with interest, void of inflation, at 3.5% is 5.4%.  Set maintenance at 7.5% per year.  Hence annual cost per seat is £1.5m x 0.129/75 = £2,580.

Alternatively consider the following table (Source: DfT New Line Capacity Study – cost estimate London, July 2007 R00851900 Submitted to Great Minster House 76 Marsham Street London SW1P 4DR by Booz Allen Hamilton Ltd. 7, Savoy Court, Strand London WC2R 0JP, 1 July 2007).

Table 2.3: Rolling stock capital and maintenance costs

Spain: AVE Madrid-
UK: Virgin
UK: West Coast
Barcelona High
Speed line
Cross Country
Main Line
Build and maintain
Build and maintain
Build and maintain
Duration of contract (years)
Value of contract
Talgo/ Bombardier/ Siemens
Number of vehicles
32 Talgo 350 trains
78 Voyager trains
56 Pendolino trains
Number of cars
Rolling stock capital cost
Capital cost per car
Maintenance cost for contract duration
Maintenance costs per car / year
£71k = 6.4%
£131k =11.9%
£117k  = 8.3%

Dividing the contract values by the numbers of vehicles, the contract duration and by 75 seats provides annual costs per seat per year of: £2,000 for Barcelona High Speed, £2,675 for Cross Country and £3,000 for UK West Coast.

Compare with express coach costing at £300,000 and lasting 15 years with 75 seats.  Capital Recovery factor is 8.7%, set maintenance at 7.5%.  Hence, annual cost per seat is £300,000 x 0.162/75 = £659 or at least three times less than the railway carriages above.

May 2017 estimates

Page 36 of Rail Technology Magazine of April-May 2017 reports Paul Plummer, Chief Exec of RDG, saying that since 2014 more than £10bn has Been spent on orders for more than 6,000 new carriages.  So, the cost per carriage is £1.67 million.  Also, if the life of a carriage is 30 years and, if we use the treasury discount rate of 3.5%, then the annual cost of capital is £90,000.  Adding maintenance at 7.5% of capital provides £215,000 per carriage or, with 75 seats, £2,870 per seat.

Replacement express co aches would not be configured as are touring coaches; complete with luggage bay.  Instead they would look more like single deck city buses but geared and designed for motorway running.  Web searches suggests a basic 75-seat vehicle may cost £250,000 to £300,000.  A life of 15 years may be realistic although, given a large fleet and dedicated design, 20 years may be a realistic target.  Capital recovery factors with the interest rate set to 3.5^% are then 0.0868 and 0.0705 respectively.  That provides the annual capital cost ranges of (a) £21,700 to £26,000 for a 15-year life or (b) £17,600 to £21,150 for a 20-year life. These compare with the £90,000 for a railway carriage see previous paragraph.  Adding maintenance at 7.5% of capital provides (a) £40,500 to £58,000 for a 15 year life and (b) £36,400 to £43,650 for a 20 year life.  These compare with £215,000 from the previous paragraph. 

We would welcome any comment on these costs (capital and maintenance), life spans etc.

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