Alliance Blackpool service to be run by Grand Central and start in 2021

The Planner

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This one has snuck on to the ORR website today by the looks of it. Link
Wonder if this will really get off the ground now.

...Having considered this application fully and balanced all our duties as we are
required to do, we have decided to approve the application but with the modifications and additional contractual requirements outlined.

GNWR explained to us that its business case was developed on the basis of acquiring firm rights for all services and, in the light of our decision, will need to reconsider the business case before making any final investment decision. If GNWR decides to go ahead on the basis of the rights that we have approved in this letter, it will be able to submit an application for a supplemental agreement to obtain firm rights for the remaining paths at a later date. We will consider any such application in the usual way on the basis of the evidence provided at that time....
 
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Silver Cobra

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I hope they do. Advances on Virgin's direct services to Blackpool North are fairly expensive, and as such the route via Leeds and the Calder Valley is still the most cost-effective option for me when making a journey there. If GWNR can offer a cheaper alternative in a similar way to Grand Central against VTEC/LNER, that could make travelling via London more attractive, or even potentially from Milton Keynes (using Stagecoach's X5 instead of travelling towards London).

Looks like they're still going ahead with the Class 91 and Mk4s for their rolling stock. Hopefully enough 800/801s are running around on the ECML to free some of those up by May 2019.
 
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WatcherZero

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Well their last approval in 2015 expired in 2017. They've granted approval only for 7 years and 7 months to coincide with HS2 commissioning and not the 10 years requested.

Originally applied for 6 services each day but Virgin got an extra 3 which has provisionally eaten one of the paths subject to live testing.
Approval for 5 return services each weekday except on Wednesday when one path is required for the bi-monthly NMT. 5 on Saturday, 4 on sunday.

Originally forecast 72% of revenue will be abstracted but ORR fiddled the figures to get 0.3 abstraction ratio (by factoring in extremely discounted fares) enough to squeeze through the NPA test.
Essentially they are forecasting this service will generate £3.6m in new revenue but rob Virgin of £13.1m in revenue.
 

aformeruser

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Essentially they are forecasting this service will generate £3.6m in new revenue but rob Virgin of £13.1m in revenue.
Didn't Virgin only propose serving Blackpool after Alliance submitted an open access application using the CSRE Polaris (which never got developed)?
 

Kettledrum

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Whilst I am pleased for potential passengers from Blackpool, Milton Keynes Central, Nuneaton, Preston, Kirkham & Wesham and Poulton-le-Fylde - it's a shame that originally planned stops at Crewe, Tamworth and Lichfield Trent Valley have been removed to keep overall journey times down.
 

AM9

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I wonder if Virgin will start focusing on the much bigger prize, i.e. the combined HS2/WCML franchise where HS2 CC services would offer a far faster journey with less chances of delays. If the OA operator uses class 91s and LHCS, the number of stops involved would be a further disadvantage as their acceleration (both from stops and speed restrictions) isn't exactly snappy.
 

geoffk

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Why do we need this as well as the Virgin service? What happened to "not primarily abstractive"?
 

LNW-GW Joint

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It seems the Virgin approval was only firm for 2 return services, pending resolution of conflict in the 3rd path (1033/1036 slot from Euston).
I think they expect Wednesdays to be sorted so that 6 GNWR trains can run, perhaps with a timing change.
GNWR now have to agree paths with Network Rail, sort out the clash with Virgin and firm up the rolling stock.
From what I read in Rail, LNER will start releasing IC225 sets in summer next year, before HSTs.
This is because HSTs are still needed on the northern ECML until the power supplies are upgraded, and so they are concentrating on replacing Leeds services first.
KeolisAmey also now have a need for some IC225 vehicles on the same timescale for Wales & Borders.
I think GNWR may be pushing it to be ready for May 2019, more like December.

The mandatory stops at Kirkham and Poulton are interesting, where Virgin currently can't call with 390s for obscure reasons (but do with the daily 221 working).
The IC225 sets will be 2+6 formation (91+4 trailers+DVT).
So we have useful stops at these stations, but they have to omit Tamworth, Lichfield and Crewe in order to coexist with the 390s on the route.
Even that to me seems odd because Tamworth and Lichfield are on the Slow, and Stafford-Crewe is now 100mph on the Slow.
GNWR stopping pattern to Preston is therefore Milton Keynes and Nuneaton only, while Virgin stop at Rugby, Warrington and Wigan.
Blackpool is going to have 10 through services daily (6 GNWR, 4 Virgin), up from zero until a few weeks ago; one each fewer on Saturdays.
GNWR will operate 4 services on Sunday, Virgin none.
Rights expire in 2026, with no presumption of roll-over into the future (the HS2 era).
Interesting times.
 
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daikilo

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Abstraction is a concept I understand in theory, but how it works at different times during the day, with different fares and stopping patterns leads me to think that Virgin either did not have enough stock, or did not understand how it would work in detail. That said, good luck to LNWR.
 

Monty

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The IC225 sets will be 2+6 formation.
Is that as two class 91s plus six trailers, or one loco plus a DVT? Would imagine it's the latter, though I would say putting two 91s on a six coach rake would shift some when leaving stations.
 
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Here is a press announcement confirming the letter: http://alliancerail.co.uk/22-new-blackpool-to-london-rail-services-approved

"Alliance Rail Holdings (Alliance) welcomes the decision by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), to approve its application for a new direct passenger rail service between Blackpool North and London Euston.

The application was submitted by Great North Western Railway (GNWR), an Arriva company and a sister company of Grand Central, rated Britain’s top train company for its services between the North East, Yorkshire and London.

The new services these Access Rights support would be able to start in September 2019 and would see Intercity train sets of a high standard introduced. These trains are planned to be formed from an electric locomotive, six passenger carriages (including first class and a buffet car) and a large luggage van.

Around 90 new jobs would be created to provide this service, many based in the North West. This would help bolster the wider economy of the North particularly along the Fylde coast.

Alongside the provision of new direct services from Blackpool to London, passengers would benefit from the increased choice these services would provide at other stations on the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

The new service is planned to operate between Blackpool North and London Euston and to call at Poulton-le-Fylde, Kirkham and Wesham, Preston, Nuneaton and Milton Keynes Central.

Alliance said “We are delighted that the ORR has approved our application to deliver new direct rail services linking towns and cities between Blackpool and London. We expect that our plans would lead to growth of the market for rail travel, a better journey experience, innovation and lower fares. Passengers would also have the choice who they wish to travel with.”

The key features of the planned new service are:
  • Direct electric services between London and Blackpool
  • Significant economic benefits over the term of the contract [3] across the towns and cities served including:
  • Around 90 direct rail jobs created
  • Creation of 100 full time employment opportunities (wider economic benefits)
  • £31 million in employment benefits
  • £106.9 million in additional visitor spend
  • £44 million in environmental and safety benefits"
 

Starmill

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Competition?
Competition in a natural monopoly is a bit of a fiction. There are relatively few opportunities s to expand the market without huge new investment (although Hull Trains do seem to have found one). Instead you simply get cream skimming behavior like this.

Running non-stop from Nuneaton to Preston, with no stop at Stafford, Crewe or Warrington for connections in Chesire and Greater Manchester strikes me as very silly. Particularly because the VT services from Blackpool also mostly do not serve Crewe or Stafford.
 

DenmarkRail

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Competition in a natural monopoly is a bit of a fiction. There are relatively few opportunities s to expand the market without huge new investment (although Hull Trains do seem to have found one). Instead you simply get cream skimming behavior like this.

Running non-stop from Nuneaton to Preston, with no stop at Stafford, Crewe or Warrington for connections in Chesire and Greater Manchester strikes me as very silly. Particularly because the VT services from Blackpool also mostly do not serve Crewe or Stafford.
There’s a huge market for trains to Preston / Blackpool from Stafford... We only have 3 a day
 

pt_mad

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Huge news.

Are they still intending to self dispatch at all stations as was on their application?

Cant imagine they would be able to self dispatch at Euston? Or Preston?

Re revenue abstraction. How can you have legitimate competition without revenue abstraction? If it were all new business then how would that provide competition when competition comes from people choosing a certain operator over another (perhaps the OA operator over rhe one which previously had the manopoly)?
I.e. customers between Euston and Milton Keynes/Nuneaton will have a choice between 3 operators, depending on times of day, and customers between Euston and Preston and Euston and Blackpool (and Poulton/Kirkham) will have a choice between two. If it was all new business then that would insinuate that all existing passengers will stick with VT and that the competition won't be viable or realistic. If you're going to encourage competition then this includes part revenue abstraction naturally. Wasn't competition sold as a positive outcome of rail privatisation in the first place?
 
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Huge news.

Are they still intending to self dispatch at all stations as was on their application?

Cant imagine they would be able to self dispatch at Euston? Or Preston?

Re revenue abstraction. How can you have legitimate competition without revenue abstraction? If it were all new business then how would that provide competition when competition comes from people choosing a certain operator over another (perhaps the OA operator over rhe one which previously had the manopoly)?
I.e. customers between Euston and Milton Keynes/Nuneaton will have a choice between 3 operators, depending on times of day, and customers between Euston and Preston and Euston and Blackpool (and Poulton/Kirkham) will have a choice between two. If it was all new business then that would insinuate that all existing passengers will stick with VT and that the competition won't be viable or realistic. If you're going to encourage competition then this includes part revenue abstraction naturally. Wasn't competition sold as a positive outcome of rail privatisation in the first place?
Euston compulsory dispatch with RA so no chance there. Not sure about Preston.
If it’s like Grand Central the on board CSAs will be dispatch trained, however, unless one operates the equipment then vaults through the open DVT door as the train moves away, it’s pretty unlikely that model will work with an RA indicator
 

morgainelive

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This is a good thing. Fares from Preston to London on Virgin are far too high and I find the services crowded, there needs to be competition and also more choice. I always go home to Blackburn via Manchester as it works out cheaper but Preston then Blackburn would be easier for me. However it's just too pricey for the length of journey.
 
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ainsworth74

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How can running such a short train on valuable WCML paths ever be a good idea? :(
Presumably the same way it's justified running five car trains up and down valuable ECML paths. Personally I'm not wholly sold but hey ho.

Re revenue abstraction. How can you have legitimate competition without revenue abstraction?
The test isn't "does not abstract any revenue" but instead "is not primarily abstractive". Which means that an OAO is expected not to just take revenue away from a franchised operator but to produce its own as well. So an OAO which just operated between Preston and London would be primarily abstractive. It introduces some competition and may grow the market a bit but it will primarily be taking revenue away from the franchised operator. However one which operates between London and Blackpool will still be abstracting revenue from the franchised operator but will also be growing its own revenue on the new section by improving links between stations either not currently served by the franchised operator or not well served by the franchised operator. Therefore it's not primarily abstractive.

Now, in the case of London to Blackpool, there is a strong argument that the ORR have had to bend their tools almost to breaking point to get the Alliance application to pass the test (I recall reading the original decision letter and it seemed like some mental gymnastics were being employed) which is perhaps why, on first inspection, it does seem odd that it's been authorised.

Wasn't competition sold as a positive outcome of rail privatisation in the first place?
Yes, by people who don't understand how railways work. A railway is a natural monopoly and if you want an integrated network that includes services which are not profitable then it becomes very hard to have effective competition between operators without massive physical duplication of infrastructure (see the pre-grouping railway of circa 1820 - 1920). If the goal had been effective competition between private operators then we should never have bothered with franchises and the paths should simply be sold to the highest bidder. That would give you the competition that was promised but I rather suspect the outcomes would not be desirable to the majority of passengers.

If it’s like Grand Central the on board CSAs will be dispatch trained, however, unless one operates the equipment then vaults through the open DVT door as the train moves away, it’s pretty unlikely that model will work with an RA indicator
It's a funny visual though isn't it? :lol:
 

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Competition in a natural monopoly is a bit of a fiction. There are relatively few opportunities s to expand the market without huge new investment (although Hull Trains do seem to have found one). Instead you simply get cream skimming behavior like this.

Running non-stop from Nuneaton to Preston, with no stop at Stafford, Crewe or Warrington for connections in Chesire and Greater Manchester strikes me as very silly. Particularly because the VT services from Blackpool also mostly do not serve Crewe or Stafford.
If it offers us mere passengers cheaper fares I am all for it. The sainted Virgin have had their own way for far to long and are extracting the urine. I know many people here don't have to pay full fare for their tickets but those of us that do will be pleased to see some actual competition if only because it might force Virgin to rinse us slightly less!

Yes, by people who don't understand how railways work. A railway is a natural monopoly and if you want an integrated network that includes services which are not profitable then it becomes very hard to have effective competition between operators without massive physical duplication of infrastructure (see the pre-grouping railway of circa 1820 - 1920). If the goal had been effective competition between private operators then we should never have bothered with franchises and the paths should simply be sold to the highest bidder. That would give you the competition that was promised but I rather suspect the outcomes would not be desirable to the majority of passengers.
But our Tory masters of the time promised us competition. Not the shady back room franchise "competition" that has been read across since that time but actual competition like the other privatised markets. Instead we as customers have been fleeced. It is time the likes of Virgin got a kick up their well trousered behind and were forced to cut costs in response to actual competition.
 

ainsworth74

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I know many people here don't have to pay full fare for their tickets but those of us that do will be pleased to see some actual competition if only because it might force Virgin to rinse us slightly less!

It is time the likes of Virgin got a kick up their well trousered behind and were forced to cut costs in response to actual competition.
Whilst I don't disagree I can't help but feel that it will only likely cause Virgin to make their lower tired AP's available (and even then I'm not convinced it will) but I doubt they'll touch their walk-up ticket prices. There is some evidence that having Hull Trains and Grand Central has helped to retard the growth of some walk-up fares on the ECML but they're still not exactly cheap/good value. £110 for a Super Off-Peak return from York to London for example.

Perhaps OAO's help to avoid people getting "rinsed" but I'm far from convinced. Plus, let's not forget, a lot of this rinsing is less to do with TOCs and more to do with successive governments allowing above inflation price rises something which I doubt we'll see undone anytime soon.
 

DarloRich

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Whilst I don't disagree I can't help but feel that it will only likely cause Virgin to make their lower tired AP's available (and even then I'm not convinced it will) but I doubt they'll touch their walk-up ticket prices. There is some evidence that having Hull Trains and Grand Central has helped to retard the growth of some walk-up fares on the ECML but they're still not exactly cheap/good value. £110 for a Super Off-Peak return from York to London for example.

Perhaps OAO's help to avoid people getting "rinsed" but I'm far from convinced. Plus, let's not forget, a lot of this rinsing is less to do with TOCs and more to do with successive governments allowing above inflation price rises something which I doubt we'll see undone anytime soon.
I take the point - however GC offered better fares on the Kings Cross - York run ( especially at short notice) and won customers. That forced the franchised operator to look again at their pricing policy. If this OAO can do the same that has to be a positive.

Personally, I would always like to see two operators on the same section of line. Perhaps those competing TOC's offer different service types/standards but they still compete for my custom. LM v Virgin on Euston > MK/Rugby being a case in point I think that delivers lower prices for customers than with a single TOC.

( I acknowledge this cant happen everywhere but it could happen more than it does)
 

ForTheLoveOf

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I'm definitely disappointed at the lack of calls at any stations between Nuneaton and Preston. Places like Crewe, Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford have some competition in the form of hourly VTWC vs hourly semi-fast WMT, but prices are still nowhere near as regularly at the same levels that places like Birmingham and Rugby enjoy.

If there's only the capacity and paths to serve one stop, I see no reason why Nuneaton, a small town of 70,000, should be this stop, rather than a station with more connecting services, such as the above stations, which also have several times the population each.
 

Class 172 Fan

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I'm definitely disappointed at the lack of calls at any stations between Nuneaton and Preston. Places like Crewe, Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford have some competition in the form of hourly VTWC vs hourly semi-fast WMT, but prices are still nowhere near as regularly at the same levels that places like Birmingham and Rugby enjoy.

If there's only the capacity and paths to serve one stop, I see no reason why Nuneaton, a small town of 70,000, should be this stop, rather than a station with more connecting services, such as the above stations, which also have several times the population each.
The advantage with Nuneaton is you are one change away from Coventry, Cambridge, Leicester and Birmingham, with fairly reasonable connections.

More than what the other TV line stations have
 

ForTheLoveOf

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The advantage with Nuneaton is you are one change away from Coventry, Cambridge, Leicester and Birmingham, with fairly reasonable connections.

More than what the other TV line stations have
But, are passengers from any of those stations going to go to Nuneaton just to use the Open Access service? They each have cheap, fast and direct services to London; all except Leicester have TOC-on-TOC competition.

Meanwhile somewhere like Stoke or Crewe would enable people one connection away who currently have just one choice to get to London - e.g. EMT or VTWC from Chester, local Manchester stations, Uttoxeter, Blythe Bridge etc. - to have a second choice. Resulting in, at the very least, cheaper APs, I'd hope.
 

The Ham

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But, are passengers from any of those stations going to go to Nuneaton just to use the Open Access service? They each have cheap, fast and direct services to London; all except Leicester have TOC-on-TOC competition.

Meanwhile somewhere like Stoke or Crewe would enable people one connection away who currently have just one choice to get to London - e.g. EMT or VTWC from Chester, local Manchester stations, Uttoxeter, Blythe Bridge etc. - to have a second choice. Resulting in, at the very least, cheaper APs, I'd hope.
If suggest that the OAO would be more interested in getting passengers heading north from Nuneaton as they'll be carrying a fair number of passengers south of the anyway.
 

ForTheLoveOf

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If suggest that the OAO would be more interested in getting passengers heading north from Nuneaton as they'll be carrying a fair number of passengers south of the anyway.
Then surely they'll have 's'/'u' restrictions added at Nuneaton, to prevent use as a cheap way to London?
 

bnsf734

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Nuneaton hasn't had a population of 70,000 since the 2001 census, population in 2011 was 86,000 and there is another 30,000 if you include Bedworth (Both towns are served by the same council). There are currently another 3-4000 homes being built. At the moment it is the largest town in Warwickshire.

Connections should be available from the Trent Valley stations by a simple same platform change at Nuneaton.

As a Nuneaton resident I am glad the Nuneaton stop has been left and looking forward to the new service. It has been a long time coming!
 

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