GRAND Central has been given the green light to run a fifth daily return train service between Sunderland and King’s Cross.
The operator currently runs four trains to and from the capital Monday to Saturday, but claimed a five-hour gap in its timetable during the afternoon meant it was missing out on passengers.
The Department for Transport (DfT) had said it was against the plan, arguing that so-called open access operators such as Grand Central “increase total industry costs by more than the revenue they generate” to the detriment of the taxpayer.
Despite those concerns, the Office of Rail Regulation (Orr) wrote to Grand Central’s managing director Richard McClean last month to approve the application.
Negotiations with Network Rail to finalise the new timetable have now begun, with the company hoping to launch the service in the second week of December.
Grand Central’s general manager Sean English has welcomed Orr’s decision and said it is good news for both his company and the people of Sunderland.
He said: “It is good for business, commerce and leisure and gives people more opportunities to visit the capital as well as Yorkshire.
“The growth since we started in 2007 has been phenomenal and we believe customers like our product.
“Right from the outset we’ve been trying to get a better balanced timetable and maximise our fleet.
“Grand Central’s aim is always growth and there is scope to put even more trains on.”
Mr English also responded to the DfT’s claims that the company is a drain on the taxpayer, saying Grand Central pays its fair share.
“The whole thing about open access is there is no direct impact on taxpayers,” he said. “We pay our way.”
News of the fifth service has met with approval throughout the city.
Nexus, who’s Metro trains also use Sunderland station, supported the proposal and said direct links with London “support inward investment to Wearside”.
Gary Hutchinson, chairman of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said he hoped the extra service would provide a boost for businesses in Sunderland.
He said: “It is obviously pleasing to see a new, additional route into the capital from Sunderland. This can only improve connectivity which is very important for local businesses.
“The chamber will fully support this move and wish Grand Central all the best.”
Sunderland Council leader Paul Watson said: “We welcome the introduction of this additional direct return rail service from Sunderland to London.
“Improving regional, national and international transport links is vital to our economic future, and the railway system has a massive part to play in this continuing process.
“We want Sunderland to be recognised as a business and visitor destination, and this additional rail service fits in with this vision and the redevelopment of our city centre station.”