Train operator hits out after plans to run additional services are rejected

Train operator Grand Central says it is disappointed after its application to run additional services was rejected.

Wednesday, 20th December 2017, 12:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th December 2017, 12:15 pm
A Grand Central train.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) decided to reject the firm's bid to put on more services between Doncaster, Wakefield and London, and for some of its trains to call at Peterborough – a move which the company says would have opened up new journey opportunities for customers.

Managing Director Richard McClean has now written to the ORR to express the company’s disappointment at the decision, which he says would have allowed Grand Central to fill in gaps in the services it provides to its passengers.

If the application had been successful, it would also have provided new direct journey options between Peterborough and the North East, arguing that it would be offering passengers more choice and lower fares.

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The operator's trains run through Sunderland and Hartlepool.

ORR however say that Grand Central's bid did not meet "necessary requirements".

As part of its long term growth strategy, Grand Central requested additional track access rights to allow it to operate:

*a very early morning service from Wakefield and Doncaster to London Kings Cross, arriving in the capital before 07.30;

*a late evening service leaving London at 21.50 back to Doncaster and Wakefield; and,

*the introduction of calls at Peterborough on these new services, and on two of its services on the North East route.

If Grand Central’s application had been approved by the ORR, the move would have brought its West Riding route in line with its North East operations, with five trains per day in each direction.

Customers using Grand Central’s lower fares travelling from Doncaster and Wakefield would have been able to enjoy five hours longer in London, as well as benefiting from a 25% increase in the number of seats provided by Grand Central on this route.

Grand Central, an open access train operator, hoped that the addition of train stops at Peterborough would also open up new journey opportunities to and from the city by connecting it with destinations in Yorkshire and the North East not served by the East Coast franchised operator VTEC.

However, the ORR rejected Grand Central’s application on the grounds that it did not reach the required ratio on its ‘Not Primarily Abstractive’ test, which assesses the balance of new revenue generated by the services against existing revenue transferred from other operators.

Mr McClean said: “As part of our application, we presented a clear business case which reflected the high level of market growth experienced when we previously expanded our operations, meaning the application reached the required ratio.

"However, the ORR felt this did not meet their required criteria on this occasion.

“We are extremely disappointed that the ORR has rejected our application to expand our operations and grow existing markets, which would have allowed us ultimately to boost our services for the benefit of existing and new passengers.

“The proposed additional services are an important part of Grand Central’s longer term strategic development, building on the strong growth of the West Riding route.

“At Grand Central, we hold a firm belief that incremental growth of our services is essential to encouraging competition in the rail market and to connecting communities and businesses.

“By offering low fares and benefits highly valued by customers including free WiFi and plenty of legroom, Grand Central aims to make travelling by train an attractive and affordable option.

“We are committed to this vision and we intend to present further growth proposals to ORR in the near future.”

A spokeswoman for ORR said: “ORR is supportive of competition in the rail sector and assesses the benefits of each application for new services on a case by case basis against long established criteria.

"In our assessment Grand Central’s proposals did not meet the necessary requirements resulting in our decision not to accept its application to run certain additional services. We will of course welcome further applications.”