GRAND Central’s bid to run five daily return trains between Sunderland and London is back on track and providing a jobs boost for the city.
After months of negotiations, travellers will finally have the choice of five services departing for the capital every day of the week, starting this Sunday.
Seven new employees have been recruited locally to staff the service and in an added boost to Sunderland’s economy, Grand Central are set to open a new office in the city at the end of the month.
Their new Sunniside home will boast meeting rooms, a training suite and a mess room.
Plans to add an extra service to the four existing daily returns were revealed exclusively by the Echo last year and in October, the Office of Rail Regulation approved the operators bid.
A fifth train has been running on Saturdays since December but Network Rail could not find a slot from Monday to Friday, meaning the service has been terminating at Hartlepool.
Grand Central bosses spoke of their determination to see the new service extended, describing Sunderland as key to their business model.
Managing director Richard McClean said: “We are delighted that from this Sunday we can give passengers in Sunderland the choice of five services to and from London each day.
“We have been working closely with Network Rail since December to extend this service to serve the people of Sunderland seven days a week. I’m delighted we can now offer this to our loyal passengers.”
The new service will leave Sunderland at 2.06pm on weekday afternoons, arriving at London Kings Cross at 6.11pm.
Meanwhile, a train will head north from London at 11.21am Monday to Friday.
Gary Hutchinson, chairman of the Sunderland committee of the North East Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the news.
“I think it’s great to see the service extending, proving the demand is there and anything that improves connectivity with the capital is a good thing.
“It is also great to see them locating their new office in Sunderland and hiring Sunderland people as part of this expansion and I hope we see more of the same.
“I hope people will support the new service and repay the confidence Grand Central have shown in Sunderland.”
Leader of Sunderland City Council, Paul Watson, added: “We welcome the introduction of this additional direct return rail service from Sunderland to London, which is good news for Sunderland.
“Thanks to the hard work of Grand Central in improving regional and national rail links, Sunderland is now a better connected city. This is vital to our economic future, and the railway system has a massive part to play in that future.
“We want Sunderland to be recognised for its strengths as a business and visitor destination, this addition to the service fits in with this vision.”