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Alliance victorious in bid for new London-Blackpool services by 2018

Open access operator Alliance Rail has won approval for its planned new direct passenger services between Blackpool and London.

The Office of Rail & Road (ORR, formerly the Office of Rail Regulation) rejected a similar proposal earlier this year, but said Alliance had now addressed all its concerns and so granted approval.

The application was submitted by Arriva-owned Great North Western Railway (GNWR), whose sister company Grand Central already operates open access services between the north east and West Yorkshire to London.

The new services will run between Queen’s Park in London and Blackpool North with contingent rights between Queen’s Park and London Euston.

wxcMap of previous proposal: current bid no longer includes service to Leeds or Warrington Bank Quay

Features of the new service will include six return trains a day between the two cities and an investment in a fleet of new six-coach Alstom Pendolino EMUs with around 330 passenger capacity. Alstom told RTM that it welcomed the news.

The proposal was pitched by Alliance and Grand Central – also owned by Arriva – in April.

The new services will start in 2018 after Arriva invests in the new tilting trains.

Ian Yeowart, managing director of Alliance, said: “The introduction of these new services will further grow the market for rail travel. As well as bringing new direct services to a number of locations, notably Blackpool, it will give passengers further choice.

“Experience on the East Coast Main Line with Grand Central has shown how this stimulates the market and helps put pressure on prices, a fact noted by the Competition and Markets Authority in its recent rail review.”

ORR said in its decision letter: “We will now work up the detailed access contract that we will direct Network Rail to enter into. However, we will include additional requirements relating to the investments GNWR will make (that justify the 10-year contract duration), calling pattern requirements and rolling stock commitments, including the time by which rolling stock must be secured and the services introduced.”

Director of economic regulation at ORR, John Larkinson, added that the company’s plans would include additional investment in stations and trains to bring further benefits to passengers.

In January this year the ORR had rejected similar proposals by GNWR to provide new open access long-distance services on the West Coast Main Line from London to Blackpool, Leeds and Huddersfield.

Network Rail had backed the application for the new services saying they could be accommodated with better use of existing capacity, citing the Northern Hub project to increase rail capacity in the Manchester area.

However, the ORR rejected the proposal because the service would not generate enough new revenue to justify competition with the West Coast franchise operated by Virgin.

The decision letter at that time read: “We would not expect to approve applications that did not generate at least 30p of new revenue for every £1 abstracted from existing operators. We set the threshold at this relatively low level with the benefits of competition firmly in mind.”

However, in its new acceptance letter, ORR justified the U-turn in its decision by saying that changes to the new application accommodated previous concerns.

“The application is for half the number of services in the previous application and it focuses on providing a regular off-peak service between Blackpool and London only. The services now proposed broadly replicate the Blackpool rights sought in GNWR’s last application but with the addition of calls at Kirkham & Wesham (which does not current have a direct London service) and the removal of calls at Warrington that would likely be very abstractive of revenue from current operators.”


Jakjaye   07/08/2015 at 13:10

No service to Leeds and Warrington BQ must be a sop to MaCusless's mates @Vermin+keeping them out of Euston except for additional fees,great cant wait to board a train at Queens Park

Scottie   07/08/2015 at 14:05

Blackpool to London ( Queens Park ) I wish the new operator well with that one ! I bet Passengers travelling from Blackpool will be overjoyed to find their new train service terminating at Queens Park. If London Euston is at 100% capacity, surely this new service could reach Zone 1 by an alternative route ! Has diverting at Willesden Junction along part of the North London Line to reach London Paddington been considered. After all London Paddington should have spare platform capacity once Crossrail services commence !

David Faircloth   07/08/2015 at 14:34

Scottie's suggestion regarding the use of Paddington isn't possible without major investment - a suitable connection towards Paddington doesn't exist. And Queen's Park does at least have Overground through to Euston plus Bakerloo for further connections throughout London. The only central alternative I can think of is St Pancras; the service could extend over the North London Line from Camden then via the Silo Curve, but the problem is that this is only linked to the international platforms. No doubt if there was the will a way could be found for limited domestic use of, say, platform 5 with entry/exit being through the glass screens adjacent to the oversized statue beneath the clock, but - unless a dispensation could be granted - the 'Pendolinos' would also have to be equipped with the French style signalling installed in this part of the station, as well as TPWS for use on the WCML.

Gb   07/08/2015 at 16:34

Good news indeed that there is to be more competition on the WCML. I just hope that these Pendolinos will have more room between the passengers' seats than the Virgin ones. If so, they will have my preference.

Rupert Le Bere   07/08/2015 at 18:10

A high proportion of the Blackpool traffic will dep/arr at London by tube. There is a direct service to the centre from Queens Park without the bedlam of Euston's escalators and Paddington's congestion. Even if diversion to an alternative terminal to Euston were possible, I bet the overall time saving would be negligable. Look at how many passengers dep/arr at Tottenham Hale to save the hassle of going into Liv. St.

Malcolm   07/08/2015 at 19:39

Emptying even just a six-car train onto the weedy little slow line platform's at Queen's Park seems a recipie to ruin the punctuality of the outer-suburban service . . . followed by a rather long queue for the stairs to the footbridge. Only place with capacity is disused platform at Primrose Hill but I doubt the business case could cope with cost of re-opening and adding a lift

Peter Armand   10/08/2015 at 15:34

An alternative London terminal could be Kensington olympia.If necessary a bay platform could be reinstated,Or better still for interchange Waterloo.

Roger Capel   10/08/2015 at 15:35

Despite the picture of a relivered Class 390, can we hope that Alliance will ditch Mr. Branson's ghastly "airliner on rails" in favour of a UK version of Pendolino Polska, with its Voyager-sized windows & syncronized, spacious interior?

Graham Nalty   11/08/2015 at 11:42

It will be excellent to have intercity style trains from Lichfield, Tamworth and Nuneaton to London again. Despite the very high cost and disruption of the West Coast main line upgrade, these towns only have one train per hour off-peak and have seen very little benefit from it. On most other lines, towns of this size usually have at least two trains per hour between them.

Stephen Waring   11/08/2015 at 14:54

This deserves to succeed. Queens Park not too bad as interim destination: Bakerloo Line links to lots of central London places and if you must go to Euston there's the Overground. I share others' hopes that GNWR will improve on the appalling internal layout of Virgin Pendolini.

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