New London-Edinburgh low fares rail service given green light
The ten-year track access rights application approved by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) will enable the Group’s East Coast Trains Limited to begin operating five trains a day each way from London King's Cross to Edinburgh, via intermediate stations at Stevenage, Newcastle and Morpeth, by 2021.
Passengers will benefit from an average fare of less than £25, free Wi-Fi and on-board catering, all offered in one high-quality class of travel.
The new service is designed to provide choice for passengers looking to travel between London, north-east England and Scotland, and will encourage travellers to switch from air or coach travel to rail.
CEO Tim O’Toole commented: "I'm pleased that the ORR has granted track access rights for our unique low-cost service between London, the North East of England and Edinburgh. This is great news for passengers, as our new service will widen the choice of travel options between these cities and offer an attractive alternative to those available today.
"We will offer genuinely low fares at half the average price of today, while adding significant benefits to the UK economy. Our brand new trains will be cheaper than other rail services, greener than the plane, quicker than the coach and will get passengers from London to Edinburgh earlier than they can arrive today, all for an average fare of less than £25.
"Now that our application has been approved and we have been granted rights we will implement the next steps to deliver our proposals which include discussions with Network Rail and rolling stock manufacturers."
FirstGroup’s application was approved at a meeting of the ORR board in April after an extensive industry consultation lasting more than a year.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) reported in March on competition in passenger rail services, suggesting that further open access operations could realise even greater benefits for rail passengers.
Low fares will persuade many passengers to make the greener switch to rail, and business travellers will benefit from the first service of the day from London arriving in Edinburgh by 10am, one hour earlier than is possible now by current rail services.
Five brand new state-of-the-art intercity electric trains will be introduced, offering an additional 1.5m seats on the route every year.
FirstGroup also operates TransPennine Express services to Newcastle and Edinburgh and recently began a new franchise on the route which will see more than £500m invested to transform rail services across the North of England and into Scotland.
FirstGroup already has extensive experience running an open access operation that fills a vital gap in the market. First Hull Trains regularly receives amongst the highest customer satisfaction scores in the country – scoring 97 percent in the autumn 2015 Transport Focus National Rail Passenger Survey.
First Hull Trains makes 90 journeys a week on the East Coast Mainline between London and Hull and transports more than 750,000 people annually – a ten-fold increase since inception. ■