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12.06.15

FirstGroup pitches its London-Edinburgh plans to ORR at meeting today

FirstGroup is set to meet with the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) today to present its detailed plans for an open access service between London and Edinburgh.

The group submitted a formal track access rights application to the ORR in March for a service that consists of five trains each way a day between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh, via Stevenage, Newcastle and Morpeth and with journey times of approximately four hours.

The bid included a proposal for “brand new, state of the art rolling stock”. These new-build, five-car electric 125mph trains will be ETCS-enabled and have performance capabilities "comparable to the new [Hitachi-built] Class 800/801 trains that the East Coast franchisee will operate from 2018”.

A key part of First’s plan for the new services is low fares to compete with low-cost airlines. It claims the average fare for the new service would be below £25, with many tickets even cheaper.

The first service of the day from London would arrive in Edinburgh by 10am, designed specifically to attract business passengers who usually fly. This arrival time is an hour earlier than the first available train today.

Currently two-thirds of journeys between the two capitals are made by plane.  Stevenage station in the south east is close to Luton and Stansted airports, and Morpeth station is close to Newcastle airport, and serving these stations will help air travellers consider rail as a potential option.

Time O’Toole, FirstGroup’s chief executive said: “Budget airlines are the great success story of aviation and we want to take them on at their own game with these innovative new proposals, by offering genuinely low fares at half the average price of today.

“Our plans will give customers travelling between London, the north east of England and Edinburgh an attractive alternative to flying and, if accepted by the Office of Rail and Road, will shake up travel options between these cities.”

The ORR has also been considering an open access application on the East Coast Main Line from Alliance Rail, a subsidiary of Arriva, for services between London and Cleethorpes.

The Alliance Rail proposal, which would be operated under the banner of Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), is for four services a day between London King’s Cross and Cleethorpes, stopping at Doncaster, Scunthorpe, Habrough and Grimsby.

The application has been with the ORR for over a year, prompting Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers to raise the issue during Prime Minister's Questions.

He said: "If Northern Lincolnshire is to obtain maximum benefit from the northern powerhouse initiative, further improvements to transport connections will be required."

David Cameron said the Vickers was absolutely right to raise the importance of a direct rail link.

"I will look very closely at what he has said today," he told MPs.

Alliance Rail had proposals to run services on the West Coast Main Line rejected by the ORR in January for six off-peak services between London and Blackpool.

(Picture: First Hull Trains, another open access service from First. Source: Joshua Brown)

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

Comments

Jb   12/06/2015 at 15:23

Sounds great! No need for HS2 after all!

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