South bank towns could get direct trains to London by 2020
By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 1 Jan 2018
Direct trains from the South bank to London could become a reality within two years after a rail operator confirmed it plans to bid for the service.
Grand Central Railway runs direct routes from the capital to Sunderland and Bradford and now the Arriva-owned operator wants to expand to cover northern Lincolnshire.
Richard McClean, the managing director, says his team plans to submit a bid to the rail regulator – the Office of Rail and Road – early in 2018, with trains up and running by 2020 if the application is successful.
The company's ambition is to run 10-carriage trains from London to Doncaster, with five of those carriages splitting at the Yorkshire rail hub to travel on to Scunthorpe, Barnetby, Habrough, Grimsby and then Cleethorpes.
It has yet to confirm how many daily services it intends to run but Mr McClean said he would "share more detail in the New Year".
Open access operator Hull Trains is often cited as one of the best providers for customer service
Mr McClean said: "We are very much interested in serving Cleethorpes and we have been developing a plan for a while now and the bits of the jigsaw have started to come together.
"You only have to look across the Humber to see the how well Hull Trains has worked in terms of serving the area around Hull and Selby."
Grand Central trains – last year voted the best rail line in the UK, according to a Which? survey – already serve Doncaster but the firm would need permission to use a split train on the East Coast Mainline.
"We need to get permission from the regulator and Network Rail," said Mr McClean, "to prove we can do this [split the carriages at Doncaster] operationally and in a way that is punctual and safe.
"It is not an unusual way of working and it allows you to efficiently use the scarce availability on the mainline."
In May 2016, a bid by Great North Eastern Railway (GNER) to run trains direct from London to Cleethorpes was rejected by the ORR after it ruled that the company’s connected proposal of running extra services to West Yorkshire could hurt the profits of Virgin Trains, the East Coast franchise holder.
Martin Vickers MP and Richard McClean from Grand Central Railway
Open-access operators, such as Grand Central and Hull Trains, have to prove that their new route will not have an adverse impact on the franchisee running the main railway line – or else the cost of operating the line could be placed on taxpayers.
But with Virgin Trains effectively bailed out of the last three years of its contract, hopes are high that the Grand Central plan for Cleethorpes could get the green light under a new regime.
A private-public "partnership" will take over running the East Coast in 2020 after reports that Virgin Trains was struggling to pay much of the £3.3 billion it bid to operating the line from 2015-2023.
Martin Vickers, the MP for Cleethorpes and long-time campaigner for a direct rail service, said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling appeared to be in favour of more open access contracts.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has voiced his support for open access trains (Image: Jon Corken)
"His replies to various questions over the past two or three months seem to indicate a more liberal response and suggest he finds open access acceptable," said the Conservative transport committee member.
"The regulator has to judge how much business an open access operator would abstracts from the main franchise holder, but there are different circumstances now with the current franchise ending in 2020 and a new partnership operating on the East Coast Mainline."
Rail Minister Paul Maynard said, while it was for the ORR to make the final decision, he "welcomed" the prospect of more open access trains.
"We have made clear that we welcome new open access applications where these do not significantly impact on affordability or the value for money from public investment in the rail network, and where they complement franchised services," said the Blackpool MP – a town that has benefited from its own open access link.