The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has granted applications from Virgin Trains East Coast and FirstGroup to run additional services on the East Coast Main Line (ECML).
FirstGroup has had a 10-year track access application approved, allowing it to operate what it has described as a “low fares” open access service between London and Edinburgh.
The operator will run five trains a day each way between King’s Cross and Edinburgh, calling at Stevenage, Newcastle and Morpeth, by 2021 and says the average fare will be less than £25.
Virgin’s application for an additional hourly path was also approved but on the basis that it would acquire the rights from May 2021 rather than May 2019 as it had requested to allow Network Rail to complete necessary infrastructure works.
However, a third operator, Great North Eastern Railway Company Limited (GNER), had its two applications to introduce rival open access services turned down.
Referring to its application for a new service to Edinburgh, the ORR said the “costs are likely to exceed the benefits” and that a proposed new service between London and Bradford/Ilkley and between London and Cleethorpes would have a “significant adverse impact” on the franchised operator.
In a statement, GNER said: “Alliance is naturally disappointed that its recent applications for new GNER services on the East Coast Main Line have been turned down by the ORR. This means the significant benefits that would have been delivered for many northern towns and cities has been lost, at least in the short term.
“We are pleased however that the ORR has recognised the benefits that further competition will bring, and we will re-visit our applications and continue to develop new proposals to enhance rail’s attractiveness on a number of routes.”
John Larkinson, ORR’s director of railway markets and economics, said: “These new train services will give passengers more choice on services to Edinburgh and London and provide more frequent trains to towns and cities which are not so well served by rail today.
“We thank all the applicants, Network Rail and other participants for their thorough input and engagement throughout this process.
“Our decision has been informed by extensive analysis, formal industry hearings and detailed engagement with all parties. We have carefully weighed up the potential passenger benefits and the financial impacts on existing operators and the government, as we are required to do by law.”