New rail charges could disrupt plans to run direct trains from London to the South Bank
By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 12 Jul 2018
Plans for a direct train service from London to Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Cleethorpes could be undone after ministers announced plans to hike up charges for rail companies.
Grand Central Rail was set to submit its bid back in March to run four trains a day between Cleethorpes and London in both directions – but an application has yet to materialise.
If the bid receives support from the rail regulator, services could start in 2020
The company says it no longer has a “firm date” for when a proposal might be sent to the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), which approves new train routes.
Transport ministers have told open access train operators – companies such as Grand Central and Hull Trains which provide bespoke routes not served by the major train franchises – they must pay more towards the upkeep of the railways and train stations if they want to run future services.
Ministers are working with the ORR to bring in the fresh charges next year, leading to fears it could push up the costs of Grand Central’s plans to run trains to North Lincolnshire from 2020.
Grand Central has plans to run direct trains to Cleethorpes from 2020
Grand Central has confirmed the reforms have forced it to review the “impact” these charges could have on any service to the south bank of the Humber.
A spokeswoman for the Deutsche Bahn-owned train operator said its bid to run trains between Cleethorpes and London were “still under development”.
She said: “Unfortunately, we do not have a firm date on when we will be able to submit our application at this stage.
“The Office of Rail and Road recently published its plans for access charges for the next control period [2019-2024] and we need to fully understand the impact of these and how they will be applied to any new service proposals.”
The news of the delay comes after Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers used a speech in Parliamenton Tuesday, July 10, to push for ministers to relax the rules and make it easier for operators such as Grand Central to re-establish North Lincolnshire’s train link to the capital.
Martin Vickers, Conservative MP for Cleethorpes, supports Grand Central's bid for a direct train route to London
Mr Vickers said a direct train line route, which has not existed since being cut by British Rail in 1992, would provide a “great boost to the local economy”.
The Tory MP said: “Services into northern Lincolnshire have the support of business and of the local community who want the services for leisure travel.
“I very much hope that the application to the regulator in the not-too-distant future will be successful.”
But Rail Minister Jo Johnson said there was an “uneven playing field” for open access operators which, while not in receipt of government subsidy like their franchise-running rivals, do not pay towards the upkeep of the track or stations.
“Under the reforms, open access operators will pay an appropriate amount towards the fixed costs of the network where they can,” said Mr Johnson.
Richard McClean, managing director at Grand Central Rail
Richard McClean , managing director of Grand Central, met with the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce recently and other businesses in the region to appeal for support for his company’s proposals.
Grand Central’s intention is to run 10-carriage trains up to Doncaster on the East Coast mainline where the train will split into five carriages.
One half of the train will head through to Scunthorpe and onto Grimsby and then Cleethorpes, while the other will travel to Bradford – a city already served by the operator.
Grand Central has been forced to publicly apologise in recent days to passengers using its West Yorkshire and North East of England services after being blighted by engine failures and air conditioning unit malfunctions, forcing the operator to cancel a slew of services.
The provider blamed the problems on the “recent spell of hot weather” and said it was “working intensively to return to a full service as soon as possible”.