Bus rivals battle for East Coast open access

FirstGroup is now an open access contender for rail passenger services between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh, and has lodged a formal track access rights application with the Office of Rail Regulation. A decision is expected sometime in spring.

FirstGroup wants to start operations in 2018. Trains would also call at Stevenage, Newcastle and Morpeth.

“The service is designed specifically to encourage travellers to switch from air to rail as currently two thirds of journeys between the two cities are made by plane( BA, Flybe, Easyjet, Ryanair and Virgin Little Red),” explained Stuart Butchers, FirstGroup’s Head of Media. “We will introduce fares that are highly competitive with the budget air carriers. Stevenage station in the South East is close to both Luton and Stansted airports, and Morpeth station is close to Newcastle airport.”

Butcher told LTT that FirstGroup was unable to give details about the type of stock to be used at this stage, but said that they planned running five trains a day in each direction: “Our first morning train from London would arrive in Edinburgh at 10.00, as compared to today’s timetable arrival time of 12.22.”

Rail managers have long argued that the London-Edinburgh market is the biggest market they haven’t got.

Statistics from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) show that domestic passenger traffic between the (six) London airports and Edinburgh increased 9.7% to 3.023 million in 2013 from 2.755 million in 2010. However, the London to Newcastle traffic also fell 12.3% from 643,000 to 564,000 during the same period.

Butchers told LTT that rail already holds nearly 60% of the Newcastle market.

However, FirstGroup is not the only open access contender for the London-Newcastle -Edinburgh traffic. Rival Arriva-owned Alliance Rail/GNER has had its sights on the ECML for some time. A spokesman told LTT:

“GNER still plans to operate an hourly service between Edinburgh and London Kings Cross, seven days a week. Train will call intermediately only at Newcastle, with a small number of calls per day at Stevenage. We will use 9-car Pendolino tilting trains in the first instance, with the option to extend these to 11-car sets if demand warrants it. The expected start date is December 2018 to allow time for the new trains to be built and the ECML infrastructure improvements to be delivered. GNER aims to generate significant modal shift from air to rail by offering a journey time of under 3hrs 45 mins between Edinburgh and London.”

The ORR is considering the GNER application and a decision is expected by mid year. Commenting on the FirstGroup proposal, LTT was informed: “We don’t see why there should be any delay arising from their application, but we note that FirstGroup is not proposing to operate anything faster than the franchised services, with the fastest journey times at, or just over, four hours.”

668/Mar 15



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