Rail competition on West Coast main line as London-Stirling link gets green light

Grand Union Trains will connect the English capital with Crewe, Carlisle and central Scotland

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 07 March 2024 09:24 GMT
Stirling boost: Central Scotland station will get four extra trains each day to London
Stirling boost: Central Scotland station will get four extra trains each day to London (Office of Rail and Road)

Rail passengers from central Scotland, Carlisle, Crewe and other stations will be able to choose between competing operators from London Euston starting in June 2025.

The move is expected to lead to lower fares and move some travellers from air and road to rail.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has given Grand Union Trains the go-ahead for a new link from Stirling and five other Scottish stations to London Euston.

Trains will run four times a day, and also serve Carlisle, Preston, Crewe, Nuneaton and Milton Keynes Central.

It will be the first time that the incumbent long-distance operator, Avanti West Coast, has faced so-called “open access” competition.

But unlike the electric rolling stock on Avanti West Coast, Grand Union will rely on diesel trains.

Announcing approval for the plan, the ORR’s strategy director, Stephanie Tobyn, said: “Our decision helps increase services for passengers and boost competition on Britain’s railway network.

“By providing more trains serving new destinations, open access operators offer passengers more choice in the origin and price of their journey leading to better outcomes for rail users.”

Stirling currently has two direct trains a day to London via the East Coast main line on LNER, as well as the overnight Caledonian Sleeper.

Grand Union Trains will also serve three stations currently with no links to London – Larbert, Greenfaulds and Whifflet – as well as Motherwell and Lockerbie.

The train operator said: “The line will avoid the congested Edinburgh and Glasgow stations, giving passengers a faster service without any changes required.”

Grand Union says it plans to use electric or “dual mode” (electric and diesel) trains “in the longer term”. But initially, it says: “With current power supply being an issue on the West Coast main line, the service is planned to start using off-lease Class 22x trains, which have a potential top speed of 125mph.”

These Belgian-built trains, branded as Meridians, are currently used by East Midlands Railway.

Currently, the only long-distance open access trains within Great Britain are on the East Coast main line: Hull Trains, Grand Central and Lumo compete with state-owned LNER.

The ORR concluded the proposed services would “increase choice for passengers, significantly increasing direct journey opportunities to and from London and central and southern Scotland, while making use of existing capacity on the network”.

The Independent has asked Avanti West Coast and LNER for a response.

Listen to Simon Calder’s podcast on open access rail

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