The Yorkshire city of Sheffield is to get a new competitor rail service to London, promising faster travel times than the existing trains.
FirstGroup, the listed passenger transport company, has submitted plans to launch a so-called open access service between Sheffield and London King’s Cross from 2025.
Open access rail services are those in which operators run their own private operations independent of government contracts directed by the Department for Transport. Such operations bear all the risk of the service but also stand to reap all the financial rewards.
FirstGroup currently runs such open access services between King’s Cross and Edinburgh, on its discount fare Lumo operation, and on services to Hull. Both operate on the east coast main line, a part of the network otherwise almost exclusively used by LNER, the renationalised train company.
LNER does not operate a direct service to Sheffield, with passengers having to change at Doncaster.
What is intriguing about the FirstGroup direct service proposition is that it will effectively compete with the services between Sheffield and London St Pancras operated by East Midlands Trains on the separate Midland main line network via Leicester and Derby.
FirstGroup’s proposals to the Office of Rail and Road suggest an initial two return journeys a day between King’s Cross and Sheffield calling at Retford, Worksop and Woodhouse, and one that will be faster than the two-hour East Midland Trains service.
It says its service is needed because the current arrangements are not working. “Almost three quarters of trips between London and Sheffield are currently made by car with a further 9 per cent of trips made by coach,” FirstGroup said. “A competitively priced new rail offering will help stimulate a shift from road to rail.”
FirstGroup says its service would be the first regular service between King’s Cross and Sheffield since 1968 and would also give the Nottinghamshire town of Worksop its first regular direct London trains in decades.
Open access is not a new concept but its take-up has been sporadic. In addition to First’s existing operations, Grand Central, part of the Arriva group, also runs trains on the east coast main line between London and York and Sunderland.