The new open access rail company Grand Union Trains has officially submitted its application to operate an hourly service in both directions between Cardiff and London.
The proposed service, which would start operating late 2020, would run from Cardiff Central to Newport, Severn Tunnel Junction and Bristol Parkway, then express to London Paddington. It will also stop at Cardiff Parkway when it opens.
The new service is also expected to create around 135 new and permanent full-time jobs, most of which will be based in South Wales.
Grand Union submitted its formal application on Friday to gain access to the route’s tracks. Under track access rules, other rail operators are able to provide a service if a route is not deemed congested, and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) approves an application. The application will now be subject to a 28 day consultation period before it is forwarded to the ORR.
Managing Director Ian Yeowart said Grand Union’s service would give passengers a choice of rail providers along the long-distance parts of the Great Western Main Line for the first time since it was privatised 23 years ago.
Mr Yeowart said: “We are working to provide a competitive train service between Cardiff and London, providing passengers with greater choice and increasing service provision on this important route for Wales.
“This route has been monopolised by the incumbent franchised operator since 1996, but Open Access allows new services to be developed, meaning passengers and local business can enjoy the benefits promised by privatisation.
“Our trains will provide the very best on-board experience, with more leg-room compared to other train providers, free wi-fi, a good choice of catering, on-board ticket sales at a fair price and a full complement of safety-trained staff including train guards.”
Acknowledging that passengers rightly expect to receive a seat, Grand Union will ensure a seat is part of the ticket price for all London journeys, offering passengers a 50% discount on their ticket for the journey if they are unable to provide one.
Grand Union will lease a fleet of InterCity 225s from Eversholt Rail Limited that are currently operating the flagship routes on the East Coast Main Line between London, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh. The recently refurbished 225 fleet will be re-configured, refreshed and reliveried. Trains will operate with nine passenger coaches, offering first class, standard class and a full buffet car on each service.
There are currently two trains per hour running from Cardiff to London, and Grand Union’s plan will add a third, while also cutting the average journey time by 20 minutes, similar to the journey saving time offered by HS2 between London and Birmingham.
Mr Yeowart added: “We have been in early discussion with the Welsh Government to ensure our service supports their plans for Wales and will be speaking with local authorities and other important business and community groups along the route to discuss the benefits this new service can bring to their area.
“We will be investing in significant infrastructure improvements at Severn Tunnel Junction Station to upgrade the station and improve passenger and staff facilities to a standard appropriate for use by Intercity trains, and are in discussions with the Welsh Government about significant improvements in Cardiff Central.”
Ken Skates, Minister for the Economy and Transport of the Welsh Assembly Government said:
“The Welsh Government welcomes the ambition being shown by Grand Union Trains to address this by proposing the operation of a new, fast, limited stop, high quality service which would provide an alternative option for passengers to travel between the two capital cities. We call on the UK Government to offer similar support for this service that would deliver significant benefits to the economy, the environment, and to travellers on both sides of the border.”
Working with rail freight logistic specialists Intercity Railfreight, the hourly service will also transport light and urgent freight by utilising empty space in the non-passenger part of the train, providing businesses a greener way to transport fast-moving consumer goods between Wales and London.
Intercity Railfreight Managing Director Jeff Screeton added: “The capacity available on Grand Union services offers us the opportunity to bring logistics innovation and a sustainable distribution option to a wide range of Welsh businesses, helping to boost local economies and communities. The Grand Union plans clearly demonstrate how rail can also help to address the twin challenges of congestion and pollution.”
For more information about Grand Union and its proposed Cardiff to London service visit www.granduniontrains.com.