Grand Central Railway

Grand Central Railway

Infobox Rail companies
image_filename=Grand Central HST Newark.jpg
franchise=Open-access operator
Not subject to franchising;
2007 - 2011
regions=London Kings Cross – Sunderland
fleet= 6 Class 43 Power Cars2 Class 47
parent_company=Equishare Partners

Grand Central Railway Company Ltd is a privately-owned train operating company running services under the name Grand Central within the United Kingdom.

The company is an open-access operator on the rail network and runs a service linking Sunderland, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Stockton-on-Tees (at Eaglescliffe) and London King's Cross. Services began on 18 December 2007 using an interim timetable until all rolling stock was available. [cite web|url=|title=Passenger services begin Tuesday 18th December|date=2007-12-18|publisher=Grand Central] As of 1 March 2008, all rolling stock has been made available, leading to the full timetable being launched. [cite web|url=|title=Full Grand Central service to begin on Saturday|date=2007-02-29|publisher=Grand Central] . From May 2008 a reduced service was in operation due to "major component failures" on the trains [ [ Train firm forced to cut services] BBC News, 20 May 2008] . However, a full service is operating as of 23 July. [cite web|url=|title=Updated Information Regarding Grand Central Services|date=2008-07-23|publisher=Grand Central] [cite web|url=|title=City rail link is back on track|date=2008-07-30|publisher=Sunderland Echo]


Grand Central operate three return trips per day between the north-east of England and the capital city, London along the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and the Durham Coast Line. Initially one return trip from Sunderland, and two from York were offered until all rolling stock became available to allow full service to commence.

Following the model of First Hull Trains, the services are run on a fully commercial, non-subsidised basis using the "open access" process to gain access to the rail network. The majority of other services in the UK are instead operated through Department for Transport (DfT)-run franchises, including most of the principal National Rail train service operators.

The route launched covers a distance of 266 miles (427 km) with over two-thirds of that distance run non-stop between York station and London King's Cross. The service is operated using rebuilt HST rolling-stock capable of 125 mph (200 km/h); procuring and renovating sufficient compatible rolling-stock had been blamed by the company for delaying the launch.


The company was formed in the mid-1990s, and was later purchased by the Fraser Eagle Group, provider of rail replacement coach services to many UK train operating companies, including Grand Central's main competitor GNER (now National Express East Coast). A former manager of Prism Rail, backed by a private equity group bought Grand Central from the Fraser Eagle Group for a sum of GBP 10 million on 13 March 2007 [ [ Former Prism bosses buy Grand Central in £10 million deal] The Independent 14/03/07] .

Grand Central originally planned to operate high-speed train services between Newcastle upon Tyne and Manchester across the Calder Valley. This proposal was rejected by the Rail Regulator in 2004.

On 23 March 2006, Grand Central received approval from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) for a contract with Network Rail, lasting a minimum of five years, allowing it to operate three passenger services per day in each direction between London and Sunderland, expected to start no later than December 2006. Problems in obtaining suitable rolling-stock led to the date for the start of service being put back to May 2007. [cite web|url=|title=London rail service winner has no trains|date=2006-10-07|publisher=The Journal] However, further delays in refurbishing rolling stock for the service has delayed the start further, with the service planned to begin in September 2007, cite web|url=|title=Second delay for new rail service|date=2007-04-26|accessdate=2007-04-27|publisher=BBC News] then November. [cite web|url=|title=A MESSAGE FROM GRAND CENTRAL’S NEW MANAGING DIRECTOR TOM CLIFT|date=2007-10-16|accessdate=2007-10-25|publisher=Grand Central] By this date, Grand Central had managed to get a shortened HST running on trials between Sunderland, York and London for crew training purposes, and had sufficient stock to form one of its complete trains, but any entry into service required more stock becoming available and being cleared to carry passengers by the DfT, the ORR, HM Railway Inspectorate and Network Rail. As a consequence, the start date further slipped to December 2007, a full year after the originally planned start. [cite web|url=|title=LATEST NEWS ON GRAND CENTRAL LAUNCH|date=2007-11-19|accessdate=2007-11-21|publisher=Grand Central] Grand Central's initial services were restricted by the amount of rolling stock they had available, which numbered only one complete train. The company was able to operate one train to and from Sunderland each day, with an additional service to and from York. In February 2008, the remaining power cars and coaches were delivered, and an announcement was made that the full service would begin in March. [cite web|url=|title=Grand Central set for March launch|date=2008-02-22|accessdate=2008-02-25|publisher=The Railway Centre] Due to further "major component failures" on the trains, by May 2008 several services were being cancelled, and the timetable was cut to a temporarily reduced service once again [ [ Train firm forced to cut services] BBC News, 20 May 2008] .

Full services were eventually resumed in the middle of July. [ [ New delay for troubled rail firm] BBC Tees News, July 7th 2008] .

Competition with other services

The ECML is one of the busiest lines on the rail network and there is currently insufficient capacity on parts of the line to satisfy all the requirements of both passenger and freight operators. The principal long-distance passenger train operator on the east coast is National Express East Coast (NXEC), which on 9 December 2007 began a franchise with the DfT which will run until March 2015, taking over from the Great North Eastern Railway (GNER) which had surrendered the contract early due to the financial difficulties of its parent company.

As a result of capacity uncertainties, Grand Central was not given regulatory approval to run the originally proposed service to Bradford. It had proposed splitting and joining the Sunderland and Bradford trains at Doncaster, with a single service to and from London King's Cross but the plan was rejected following concerns expressed by Network Rail.

Grand Central has promised to give an immediate 50% refund to any passenger unable to find a seat at any time during the journey.

GNER vigorously opposed the prospect of on-rail competition on the East Coast Main Line from Grand Central. The regulatory hearing at the ORR saw strong objections to Grand Central's services from GNER, but these were rejected. GNER then challenged the legality of the ORR's decisions by bringing a judicial review of ORR's decision in the High Court. On 27 July 2006, GNER's case failed and the High Court ruled that the ORR's decision to allow Grand Central access to the national railway network - paying access charges which are structurally different from (and lower than) those payable by franchised passenger train operators - was legal. [cite web|url=,,1832208,00.html|title=GNER fails to block rival's east coast line service|publisher=The Guardian|date=2006-07-28]

The Grand Central service links parts of the North East that have not had a direct service to London for many years.

Rolling stock

Current fleet

Grand Central have three HST trains formed of Class 43 (HST) power cars and Mark 3 coaches. The power cars, numbered 43065/067/068/080/084/123 [cite web|url=|title=125 History - Privatisation 2005 - Present|publisher=125Group] all have buffers since they were all previously modified for use with Class 91 locomotives before the Mark 4 sets were available. The coaches consist of six HST trailer vehicles (3 TRSB and 3 TGS) and 18 ex locomotive hauled Mk3a coaches built for the West Coast Main Line.

In its first few months of operation, Grand Central experienced significant difficulties with its rolling stock, particularly the Class 43 power cars, which were prone to equipment failure. As a consequence, Grand Central were forced to hire replacement rolling stock on several occasions - this has been replacement Class 43 power cars, or other locomotives and passenger coaches from EWS and various spot-hire companies, including a pair of EWS Class 37, and a pair of Class 47 locomotives. [ [ The Railway Centre Picture of the Day Index 06/05/08, 15/05/08] ] . The Class 47s obtained in May 2008 were designated for a shuttle service between Sunderland and York to connect with the main HST service.

Future fleet

Grand Central's agreement allows for a fourth daily service, which could not be met by the existing fleet. As a consequence, Grand Central have made plans to procure a pair of Class 180 "Adelantes" [ [ = Network Rail - Current Vehicle Change Proposals; Grand Central Class 180] ] to operate as a single trainFact|date=July 2008. Permission to run the Class 180s was granted by Network Rail in June 2008 [Network Rail, [ Network Rail acceptance of proposed Vehicle Change Grand Central Class 180] , 2008-06-11.] .

In April 2007, Grand Central announced plans to lease brand new rolling stock from 2010 to replace the HSTs, on the provision that its track-access contract is extended beyond the initial five years. In conjunction with Sovereign Trains, a newly formed rolling stock lessor, Grand Central plans to obtain new "Polaris" DEMU trains from China. These new express trains could be capable of up to 140 mph, which will allow them to take advantage of any future speed limit increases on the ECML. [cite web|url=|title=Rail company's Chinese trains bid|publisher=BBC News] .

Rolling stock procurement

Grand Central had originally planned to use a fleet of five of Bombardier Transportation’s five-carriage Class 222 Diesel-electric Multiple Unit (DEMU) 125 mph (200 km/h) trains, similar to those that were already in use with Hull Trains and Midland Mainline, and related to the Class 220/221. However, there were difficulties in securing these units which led Grand Central to make alternative plans.

On October 5 2006, it was announced that Grand Central had secured the use of six Class 43 power cars, and 24 Mark 3 trailer vehicles. The former loco hauled Mark 3a coaches required a complete rewiring in order to work with the power cars as they have different electrical requirements. [cite web|url=|title=Grand Central Railway to operate HST power cars and loco-hauled Mk3s|publisher=The RailwayCentre.Com] This caused the company's start date to be pushed back to 20 May 2007 [cite web|url=|title=New rail service launch delayed|publisher=BBC News] and then further to again to September 2007, and again at a later update.

In August 2007, Grand Central hired a pair of Class 47 locomotives and a rake of five Mark 3 coaches, from DRS, to enable its staff to learn the route prior to the introduction of its HST fleet. [cite web|url=|title=Sunderland – London crew training trips start next week|publisher=Grand Central]


Grand Central operate services from London King's Cross to Sunderland. The service passes through the stations at Seaham, Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees and Yarm but does not serve them, it is currently unknown if these would be served in the future.

Grand Central runs two named trains. "The Zephyr" leaves from Sunderland on Monday-Friday mornings at 06:46. The final northbound departure runs as"The 21st Century Limited" leaving from King's Cross at 16:50. [cite web|url=|title=Grand Central announces Safety Case acceptance |publisher=Grand Central|date=2007-03-09] The naming is a homage to the American 20th Century Limited, now run as the Lake Shore Limited by Amtrak between New York and Chicago.

Proposed future services

In addition to its services to Sunderland, Grand Central has also expressed plans for a number of other routes. Grand Central plan to double the number of Sunderland - London Kings Cross return services from December 2008. This is part of a wider track access application also involving Grand Union.


Grand Central applied for a new track access agreement in March 2008 requesting three further London-Sunderland services in each direction per day, taking its total to six trains per day. [ Grand Union - Track Access Rights on the East Coast Main Line] , Office of the Rail Regulator, 28/03/08]


As part of its original proposal, Grand Central also sought to run services between Kings Cross and Bradford. This proposal has evolved into one directed through Grand Union to operate up to six trains per day in each direction in the March 2008 application.


Grand Union has developed a case for running services over two additional routes; Doncaster to Bradford Interchange, and London Euston to Bradford Interchange via Huddersfield.

Other proposed routes

Grand Central was originally linked with a proposal to run shortened HSTs between Newcastle and Preston, via the Durham Coast, York, Wakefield, Brighouse, Rochdale and Manchester. It later suggested a York to Chester service to be run by DMUs (probably Class 158s displaced from TransPennine Express). Neither of these proposals was approved.Fact|date=July 2007


External links

* [ Grand Central Railway] , official website.
*Grand Central Railway, map showing [ service] along with GNER, First Hull Trains, and the rejected Bradford route.
*BBC News, [ Clear track ahead for new train firm?] , 2006–03–03.

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