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Virgin Trains rival Grand Central applies to run more services on East Coast mainline

Train company Grand Central has applied to run extra routes on the East Coast mainline in a move which could hasten the calls for greater competition on the country’s railways.
Grand Central is an open access operator, which means it doesn’t run a specific franchise but rather operates trains on lines controlled by rivals. Managing director Richard McClean said his firm had applied to the Office of Rail and Road for permission to run six return services from London King’s Cross to the North East from five now.
It also wants to run six trains from West Yorkshire to the capital and five back, compared to four in each direction now.
The move comes as Virgin Trains East Coast, the joint venture between Stagecoach and Virgin Trains, is set to hand the keys to the East Coast franchise back just three years into an eight-year contract.
The company’s initial bid for the contract was based on an expectation of passenger growth which has not transpired and it has been forced to pay its fees to the Government from a so-called parent company bond, a pool of cash which ensures the Government still receives the payments due to it if a franchise is underperforming.
Virgin Trains rival Grand Central applies to run more services on East Coast mainline

Virgin Trains East Coast will hand back the keys to the franchise just three years into an eight year contract

Credit:
David Parry
This will, however, not last for the life of the contract meaning Virgin Trains East Coast has requested to relinquish control of the franchise.
Mr McClean said the additional services he was applying for would provide an additional 1,600 daily seats to or from the capital and had been requested “in response to demand from its customers”. The services will be run using its Adelante fleet, which is currently undergoing a significant refurbishment programme.
“The proposed services are essential to encouraging competition in the rail market and to connecting communities and businesses,” he said.
“By offering low fares and benefits which are valued by our customers such as free WiFi and plenty of legroom, we aim to make train travel an attractive and affordable option.”
In January, Grand Central was ranked the top train company for overall journey satisfaction and was rated the best value long distance train operator for the sixth year running in the National Rail Passenger Survey in 2017.
Besides Grand Central, Alliance Rail Holdings is another open access operator which is applying to run services between London and Southampton. Hull Trains and Heathrow Express are also considered open access operators.
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