Grand Central’s planned Blackpool to London route falls victim to COVID-19

Grand Central will not launch its planned North West route train service between Blackpool and London after COVID-19 rendered plans ‘unfeasible’.

Company executives at Grand Central and parent company Arriva said following months of exploring all options to launch the proposed expansion of services to the North West route as planned, it is not now viable due to the economic uncertainty and changed travel patterns caused by COVID-19.

Employees who may be affected by the decision have been advised of the potential risk to jobs, and suppliers and stakeholders are being briefed.

Richard McClean, Manging Director of Grand Central, said: “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.

“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 more 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.

The expansion of Grand Central’s services to the North West Route would have linked communities in Blackpool, Preston, Nuneaton and Milton Keynes directly to London Euston, The project had seen Grand Central establish offices in Blackpool and take on extra staff, including drivers. A period of consultation has begun between affected employees, rail unions and Grand Central executives.

Mr McClean added: “We have explored every possibility to continue with plans to start the North West route and protect these jobs. 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.”

Apperley Bridge comes to Railcam

We are delighted to welcome Apperley Bridge to Railcam, courtesy of site host Dan. Dan has recently moved to the property and noticed the wonderful view he has of Apperley Bridge and wasted no time in getting a camera set up and contacting Railcam, providing the stream to us at no cost. Thanks Dan.

It’s hard to believe the camera is situated around 2km from Apperley Bridge, but the zoom capabilities of the camera has given us a lovely scenic view of the line which runs between Leeds and Bradford/Skipton and on to the Settle & Carlisle Line.

Expect to see regular service from Northern, as well as LNER working to/from Bradford Forster Square, plus the odd charter, freight and test train thrown in for good measure.

This camera will be silent due to the distance from the camera to location and will be available free to view to all Railcam members.

Light at end of lockdown tunnel as Grand Central offers tickets for summer return

TRAIN operator Grand Central has announced a ‘measured’ return to service following a four-month period of hibernation during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Yorkshire-based company is inviting passengers to book for its West Riding and North East routes, from July 26. Grand Central thanked customers for their support whilst services have been suspended and invited passengers to once again “put their faith” in the company.

Managing Director, Richard McClean, said: “In late March it became obvious to us we couldn’t operate a viable rail service under the Government’s lockdown rules. Social distancing and a ban on non-essential travel meant we had no option but to put our trains to bed and place the majority of our staff on furlough.

“Since that decision we have worked hard to plan every aspect of a safe, sustainable return and we can now see that the lockdown has eased to such a degree for us to begin a measured return to service from late July.”

Mr McClean said the business would resume with two daily return services between Bradford Interchange and Kings Cross and a further three daily return services between Sunderland and Kings Cross.  More services will be added as demand increases. Drivers and operational staff will begin their return to work soon and Grand Central is now offering competitively priced tickets with seat reservations for the two routes.

“To be able to once again invite passengers to make seat reservations and buy tickets makes our return very real,” he said. “The values of the Grand Central you enjoyed before the lockdown, such as getting the basics right and caring for our customers and colleagues, are still very much here and we will uphold those values now while ensuring the absolute safety of our passengers and staff. 

“We have stayed close to all of the work our fellow train operators have been doing and we’re confident our approach will work for everyone. We’ve engaged in wide-reaching passenger surveys over the past couple of months and we’ve listened to you all on what you expect safe train travel to look like. If you buy your tickets on our website and provide your contact details, we’ll be able to let you know the latest information you’ll need for your journey. 

“Grand Central started as just an idea 13 years ago and through the hard work of all our team we’ve become a vital service to communities overlooked by the bigger operators. 
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I want to thank those passengers for their loyalty and I invite them to put their faith in Grand Central again as we return to their towns and cities”.

As an Open Access train operator, Grand Central does not receive Government funding and relies on tickets sales. 
Passenger and staff safety measures will include increased cleaning during the journey and overnight at depots, and protective equipment for staff. Customers will be able to change their date of travel without penalty if their plans change, and Grand Central offers a range of competitively priced refundable tickets. 

No trains in or out of London King’s Cross on June weekend as East Coast Upgrade work continues

  • No trains in or out of London King’s Cross or Moorgate, or from the East Coast Main Line into St Pancras International, on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 June 2020 so new overhead line equipment can be installed.
  • Project is part of £1.2billion upgrade which will deliver more trains, thousands of extra seats and more reliable journeys.
  • Under current COVID-19 guidance, journeys should only be made if they are necessary, and those needing to travel should avoid using public transport wherever possible, with use of face coverings strongly encouraged where social distancing is not possible

Network Rail and train operators on the East Coast Main Line are urging passengers not to travel to or from London King’s Cross, Moorgate or on Thameslink services via Finsbury Park on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 June as the next stage of planned work on the huge East Coast Upgrade continues.

The installation of new overhead line equipment over the affected weekend is the latest stage of the project which will eventually see a disused railway tunnel leading to King’s Cross reopened, allowing additional tracks to be laid so more trains can enter and exit the station. When combined with upgrades elsewhere on the route, the East Coast Upgrade will enable more reliable journeys between London, Peterborough and Cambridge.

Safety is Network Rail’s top priority and so the station will need to be closed to train services for this short period. All the work is being done under strict guidelines, in accordance with social distancing rules.

On LNER services, rail replacement buses will operate between St Neots and Bedford where those still travelling can take Thameslink services into London. On the Govia Thameslink Railway network, no Great Northern or Thameslink services will run on the East Coast Main Line into King’s Cross, St Pancras International or Moorgate. Rail replacement buses will operate from Potters Bar and New Barnet to stations on the Bedford to St Pancras route and to London Underground stations for onward connections into London.

Under the current COVID-19 guidance, people are being asked to consider whether their journey is necessary and are being encouraged to stay local. Those who cannot work from home and need to travel should avoid public transport where possible. Those who have to travel by train on the affected weekend should check their journey ahead of time via EastCoastUpgrade.co.uk, National Rail Enquiries or with their train operator.

Ed Akers, Principal Programme Sponsor for Network Rail, said: “The COVID-19 crisis continues to bring significant challenges for the railway, however we are working day and night to keep the railway running reliably and safely and to carry out essential work.

“On Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 June, we will continue with a vital project to upgrade the East Coast Main Line in a £1.2billion investment. We’ve changed our working methods on site to make sure we can follow Public Health Guidelines and carry on with this project which will bring significant benefits for passengers.

“We’d like to remind everyone that they should only be making journeys that are necessary, but if you do need to travel, please seek alternative travel arrangements. Bus replacement services will be in place, but these will take significantly longer than usual.”

Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris said: “With capacity on our railways significantly reduced due to COVID-19, it is important that people work from home if they can, stagger their travel times to avoid crowds, and use other forms of transport wherever possible.

“For those people who do have to travel, we understand this closure will cause significant disruption to their journeys over the weekend. However this work is the next stage of the vital East Coast upgrade which will deliver more trains, thousands more seats for long distance passengers and more reliable journeys in the future.”

A spokesperson on behalf of train operators on the route, said: “We appreciate any engineering work can cause inconvenience, but this work is really important to make sure we have a railway which can meet the needs of communities and economies along the route for the long term. We thank our passengers in advance for their understanding and flexibility.

“The work will mean more reliable, more frequent and faster services with more seats, improving travel for our passengers. We’d urge passengers to continue to follow the Government advice to only travel when necessary, and to avoid use of public transport where possible at this time. If you have to travel please check how your journey will be affected by visiting EastCoastUpgrade.co.uk, National Rail Enquiries or check with your specific train operator.”