Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Friday Forum

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Friday Forum

Article excerpt

Byline: By Hugh Morgan-Williams

There's good news for Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough this week. A new train company, Grand Central, has been given preliminary approval to start running three services a day to London from next year.

Direct services to London were axed in the early 90s and 2007 will see the start of the new service.

But is it really such good news for the region as a whole?

Grand Central have made much of the fact that they are providing an alternative service, which will be cheaper and more convenient. But it won't be faster. People living in Sunderland will have a quicker journey by taking the Metro to Newcastle and taking a direct train to the capital.

The new service will probably benefit people living in Hartlepool and to a lesser extent Middlesbrough. And of course with only three services a day, the company will not be able to compete in the same way as GNER, which effectively offers a half hourly service to King's Cross.

However, there are more important issues which people backing the new service may have overlooked. GNER spent four years and a great deal of money tendering for the franchise to operate the East Coast Main Line. Grand Central have not had to go through any competitive tendering process.

If they were to access the track on the same terms as GNER, they would have to pay pounds 28m a year in fixed track access charges and premiums (GNER figures). It seems very unfair they have to do neither.

If I were the chief executive of GNER, I would be demanding some of my money back, because the new service will undoubtedly take revenue from the main franchise operator; something which was not foreseen at the time of their bid.

GNER will therefore probably have less money to invest in the franchise and certainly less incentive to do so. In addition, the shadowy Office of Rail Regulation, which has made this decision, has said that in order to accommodate the new service GNER will have to alter its timetable.

I rang GNER to ask them what this meant and was told that it would mean some slower services to London, and fewer stops at smaller stations like Durham and Northallerton. …

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