Yesterday open-access operator Grand Central Trains (part of the Arriva group) announced details of their new service which is due to begin running in Spring 2020. Five trains a day each way will operate Monday – Saturday, with four on Sundays. Trains will call at the following stations – although the last two Southbound M-F service won’t call at Milton Keynes.
The company has also released a provisional timetable. The stopping pattern has been changed (with no Warrington call as originally proposed) to address ORR’s concerns about abstracting revenue from existing franchises. The services are expected to be worked by Class 91 locomotives, 6 Mk4 coaches and a Driving Trailer (DVT) which will ne taken off-lease by LNER later this year.
These services were proposed as long ago as 2015. In fact, I remember doing the photography at a stakeholder event with GC in Blackpool back in November 2010, which gives you an idea just how long it can take to get these new routes off the ground.
Originally, the service wasn’t expected to be able to get into Euston station due to constraints caused by the construction of HS2. Instead, Network Rail could only guarantee paths as far as Queens Park station where there’s an interchange with both the Watford DC lines and also London Underground’s Bakerloo Line. However, changes to the HS2 programme around Euston mean that there’s a lot less disruption so GC will be able to ‘go all the way’.
It will be very interesting to see how this service develops. Grand Central have a proud history of developing routes that would normally be neglected by the franchises but it can take time, faith and money. I remember when GC started their West Riding service from Bradford Interchange to London Kings Cross back in 2010. In the very early days passenger loadings could be as little as 24 on a 287 seat train (I know because I’ve been a regular since the service started so used to keep count). Nowadays, you’ll be lucky to find a seat – even in First Class! Hopefully the Blackpool’s will start from a higher base. Whichever way, the service will provide around 90 more jobs and better connectivity between one of the North’s most popular seaside resorts and the capital, allowing this livery to become a regular sight on the West Coast Main Line…