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Grand Central has permanently dropped its plans to launch an open access passenger service between Blackpool and London, saying Covid-19 had rendered the project ‘unfeasible’.
Rail Business UK understands that after months of work exploring all options it had become clear that the service would not be financially viable until at least 2024.
With Deutsche Bahn looking to dispose of Grand Central’s parent company Arriva when conditions are right, the new service would have been an unacceptable source of long-term losses.
Tough decision‘So much effort has been put into these exciting plans to launch services between London and Blackpool that it is heart-breaking to have to abandon them at this point, but the pandemic and its effect on our expansion plans have just proved too big an obstacle’, said Grand Central Managing Director Richard McClean on September 10.
‘Because Grand Central operates under an open access business model, we receive no external financial help and we rely completely on what we generate in ticket sales. Despite months of work to adjust our costs, and monitor travel behaviour for signs of change, it became obvious to us that to invest in what is essentially a start-up enterprise in this climate was simply not feasible and therefore we reluctantly reached the very tough decision to cease the project permanently.
‘We will now concentrate on rebuilding our two existing routes, which returned to service earlier this summer, following lockdown.’
Grand Central had proposed to operate five trains a day between Blackpool North and London Euston, and four on Sundays, calling at Poulton-le-Fylde, Kirkham & Wesham, Preston, Nuneaton and Milton Keynes Central.
A fleet of 24 MkIV coaches had been leased from Eversholt Rail and refurbished to operate the service. Rail Business UK understands that these will now be returned to the leasing company in a move which will require a payment to end the contract. Five Class 90 locomotives owned by sister company DB Cargo had also been prepared, with some requiring extensive overhaul work after many years in storage.
StaffEmployees were informed of the decision on September 9 via a ‘difficult’ video call from McClean, who told Rail Business UK that everything possible was being done to provide assistance with finding new employment opportunities for them.
A period of consultation has begun with affected employees and unions. Some staff will be offered roles elsewhere within Grand Central while others will be able to transfer to Arriva’s CrossCountry operation.
The wider rail industry is currently recruiting, and there is a hope that other employees will be able to fill some of the available roles. It is understood that some of the new conductors had joined Grand Central from the air industry, hoping for a longer term future on the railways.
‘We have explored every possibility to continue with plans to start the northwest route and protect these jobs’, said McClean. ‘The people we took on have shown incredible patience and professionalism during what has been a period of great uncertainty. They have been at the forefront of our motivation to continue with the route and deliver services to new customers.
‘The great support we have also received from Blackpool and the other communities along the route has been a massive inspiration for us to find a solution. I want to thank you all so much.’
This article first appeared on www.railwaygazette.com
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