Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

A tritanic struggle

Posted in Customer service, Great Britain, High Speed by Chairman Pip on 7 January 2011

So, following on from the three-way fight over direct trains from London to Blackpool, we find the first detail comes from Grand Central, who have published in full their proposal for consultation, which they have announced they wish to start in 2012 by using Class 67 locomotives and coaching stock, getting the jump on their rivals by at least a year by being able to use existing rolling stock. Of course, you know that I believe Grand Central’s plan is all part of their attempt to discredit and do over Ian Yeowart, given their lack of any kind of (at least public) desire prior to about two months ago to run trains to Blackpool. Nevertheless, they have designed a four train per day timetable that puts the “Vegas of the North” just under three and a half hours from London, with a stated aim of increasing the service to every two hours by using new full up 125mph capable rolling stock (presumably from CSRE).

Artist's impression of a Grand Central Class 67 and coaches

This seemingly puts Alliance Rail in something of a bind, at least as far as Blackpool is concerned, as their commitment for GNWR is for it to use all new trains (again sourced from CSRE) and start running in 2013. Admittedly, Blackpool is not the be-all and end all for GNWR, given Alliance’s far reaching network plans. But it is not yet clear, were Grand Central to be successful in its Blackpool bid, how that would affect Alliance’s plans for its services from London to Carlisle, Bradford and Leeds via the WCML.

GNWR Polaris

Artist's impression of a GNWR Polaris Electro-Diesel Multiple Unit

Where then does this leave the DfT? The West Coast Franchise (WCF) is due to be re-let in 2012, and a restoration of direct London-Blackpool services has been written as a new requirement. Presumably the idea would be to use the newly extended Class 390 Pendolinos on these services, but this puts WCF even further behind the two open-access operators, as electrification is not scheduled to reach Blackpool until 2014. This is in addition to the opened up competition for the franchise holder, which it as yet has not had to face owing to the terms of Virgin’s existing franchise agreement. I have read about someone else’s conspiracy theory, which says that the DfT only added Blackpool to the North-West electrification scheme, and then to the franchise requirement, when it became clear that open-access operators were going to apply to get there first using diesel traction.

A Class 390 Pendolino - this would not be able to reach Blackpool until 2014 unless dragged by a diesel locomotive

All of this though should be music to the ears of the local population in Blackpool and the Fylde Peninsula, given that, whatever their motives might be, these three companies are fighting over the right to run trains to the capital for them. Both Hull and Sunderland have benefitted from the improved rail links to London that open-access has given them, and it seems that Blackpool is looking favourably on the idea as well. Of course, while it is good to get things soon, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the right thing. Grand Central’s initial offer will be no more than what Blackpool had in the days of previous loco hauled trains on the WCML, while both GNWR and the WCF offer the prospect of tilting trains to take advantage of the 125mph capability of the trains on the twisty route. On the flip side, Grand Central’s offer gives them trains straight away. It’s an interesting one. The ORR will make a statement on future access to the WCML next month, with a final decision in March. Watch this space.

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