New long distance open access rail service to help millions

‘Open access’ services on seven routes are being developed in a bid to boost connectivity, increase competition and reduce fares, analysis by the PA news agency found.

It comes as the UK Government is planning measures to encourage further proposals, despite concerns that open access services create additional strain on the network and take too much revenue away from conventional operators.

Currently, most trains in the UK are run by operators that are either owned or paid management fees by the UK, Scottish or Welsh governments.

In contrast, open-access operators set their own fares, take on all revenue risk and receive no taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Richmond and Twickenham Times: There would be seven new routes.There would be seven new routes. (Image: PA)

In deciding whether to approve new open access applications, the regulator the Office of Rail and Road assesses factors such as the benefit to passengers, whether sufficient new revenue will be generated, and the impact on the punctuality of existing services.

New open-access rail routes to offer long-distance routes

Rail minister Huw Merriman said the UK Government was working to provide more certainty throughout the application assessments, reconsidering the required balance of costs between taxpayers and operators, and ensuring all unused track access slots were made available.

Telling PA: “It’s not just a question of us having rail operators compete with each other.

“There’s an opportunity for rail to take passengers that may otherwise fly or indeed drive.

“Open access is such a positive. It doesn’t involve any direct taxpayer subsidies. It also breathes new life in terms of working practices.

“There’s no industrial action on open access operators, perhaps because it’s a fresher way of working with the workforce rather than on an old rule book basis.”

York-based prospective open access company Grand Union Trains (GUT) plans to launch services between London Euston and the city of Stirling in central Scotland from June next year.

Richmond and Twickenham Times: A map of the new rail services.A map of the new rail services. (Image: PA)

It has also been given the go-ahead to run trains between London Paddington and Carmarthen, in south-west Wales, and is consulting on starting services between Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Managing director Ian Yeowart said the growth in passenger numbers on the East Coast Main Line between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh demonstrated the “significant benefits” of open access.

Services on the line are run by Government-owned LNER and open-access operators Grand Central, Hull Trains and Lumo.

Other proposed routes for open access are:

  • Services between London King’s Cross and Sheffield by FirstGroup.
  • Services between London Euston and Wrexham by Alstom.
  • Go-Op running services between Taunton and both Weston-super-Mare and Swindon.
  • Lumo extending its London King’s Cross-Edinburgh route to and from Glasgow.

New open access operators competing on the same routes as incumbents typically offer fare reductions of 20-60% in the long-term, according to a report published in summer 2023 by Rail Partners, a body representing private sector train companies.

But rail engineer Gareth Dennis believes open access services should not be permitted in Britain because it is “incredibly complicated” to fit them in among trains run by operators with Government contracts, and can “actually reduce overall capacity”.

He said: “The argument on the Continent for open access operators is that they provide competition, but there’s no meaningful competition on a rail network that’s as saturated as ours.

“What you need is a simple, repetitive timetable that moves huge numbers of people.”

Mr Dennis said open access operators often charged lower fares because “they don’t have any of the overheads that the rest of the railway has”.

He went on: “They don’t have to pay for depot space because they get to use depots that exist for other companies.

“They don’t have to pay to train their staff because they can just recruit staff trained by the other operators.

“It’s a false economy really.”

Adblock test (Why?)