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Grand Central Railway

Grand Central Class 180 No. 180112 at London Kings Cross

Franchise(s):Open-access operator
Not subject to franchising;
2007 - 2011
Main route(s):London King's CrossSunderland
London King's Cross - Bradford Interchange
Other route(s):None
Fleet size:3 HST
5 Class 180 Zephyr
Stations called at:13
Stations operated:0
Parent company:Grand Union Railway
North East route diagram
Sunderland 10px
Eaglescliffe (for Middlesbrough)
London Kings Cross London Underground
West Riding route diagram
Bradford Interchange
Brighouse (for Huddersfield)
Wakefield Kirkgate
Pontefract Monkhill
London Kings Cross London Underground

The Grand Central Railway Company Limited is a privately-owned train operating company operating passenger rail services under the name Grand Central on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) in the United Kingdom. It is an open access operator and runs two services directly linking the northern English cities of Sunderland and Bradford with London.

The first service began on 18 December 2007 and linked Sunderland, Hartlepool, Eaglescliffe, Northallerton, Thirsk, and York with London, using an interim timetable until all rolling stock was available.[1] The full timetable was launched in March 2008[2] and a fourth daily service was added on 17 August 2009.[3]

On 23 May 2010, Grand Central started new services between Bradford Interchange and London King's Cross, calling at various Yorkshire stations between there and Doncaster including Halifax.[4] These services have been dubbed the 'West Riding Service'.


Grand Central operates four return trips per day between Sunderland and London, along the ECML and the Durham Coast Line, and three return trips between Bradford and London using the ECML, parts of the Caldervale Line, and a previously goods-only line. Initially one return trip from Sunderland, and two from York were offered until all rolling stock became available to allow a full service to start.

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 Sunderland service covers a distance of Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff, more than two thirds of it non-stop between York station and London King's Cross. The service is operated using rebuilt HST and refurbished Class 180 rolling stock capable of Template:Convert/LoffAoffD5Soff; procuring and renovating sufficient compatible rolling stock had been blamed by the company for delaying the original launch.

On 23 May 2010, Grand Central started running three return trips per day between West Yorkshire and London, along the ECML and the Caldervale Line. Trains are formed of the Class 180 units also acquired for the fourth return service to Sunderland.



London Kings Cross on 18 December 2007 - the first day of Grand Central services

The company was formed in the mid-1990s, and was later bought by the Fraser Eagle Group, a provider of rail replacement coach services to many UK train operating companies. A former manager of Prism Rail, backed by a private equity group, bought Grand Central from Fraser Eagle for £10 million on 13 March 2007.[5]

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

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 start date being put back to May 2007.[6] However, further delays in refurbishing rolling stock for the service delayed the start again, with the service planned to begin in September 2007,[7] then November.[8]

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 entry into passenger 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.[9] Grand Central's initial services were restricted by the amount of rolling stock it 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.

File:GRAND CENTRAL B Mark 3 TS 1 42401.JPG

Grand Central Mark 3 TS No. 42401 at London Kings Cross

File:GRAND CENTRAL B Mark 3 TS 1 42401 Interior 1.JPG

The refurbished Standard Class interior of a Grand Central Mark 3 TS vehicle

In February 2008, the remaining power cars and coaches were delivered, and an announcement was made that the full service would begin in March.[10] 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.[11]

Full services were eventually resumed in the middle of July.[12]

Grand Central's agreement allowed for a fourth daily service, which could not be provided from within the existing fleet. As a consequence, Grand Central procured a pair of Class 180 Adelantes.[13] Permission to run the Class 180s was granted by Network Rail in June 2008.[14] The ORR gave Grand Central clearance to run the extra service awarded in January 2009,[15] with the service expected to start in May.[16] Successful test runs for the service were held in April 2010.[17]

Grand Central is not yet a profitable operation, and in August 2009 it posted an £8 million loss.[18] This was blamed on the "significant start-up costs incurred when introducing a brand-new service". The company is aiming for the Sunderland-London service to be profitable by 2010.[18]

Competition with other services[]

File:GRAND CENTRAL Mark 3A TF 5 41205.JPG

Grand Central Mark 3 TF No. 41205 (converted from a former West Coast Mark 3A FO vehicle) at London Kings Cross

File:GRAND CENTRAL F Mark IIIA FO 5 41205 Interior.JPG

The refurbished First Class interior of a Grand Central Mark III TF vehicle

The ECML is one of the busiest lines on the UK 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 line is the nationalised East Coast, which took over from National Express East Coast (NXEC) in November 2009 due to poor performance. NXEC had begun a franchise on 9 December 2007 with the DfT which was due to run until March 2015, taking over from the 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, 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 ECML from Grand Central. The regulatory hearing at the ORR saw strong objections by GNER to Grand Central's services, but these were rejected. GNER then challenged the legality of the ORR's decisions by seeking a judicial review in the High Court. On 27 July 2006, GNER's case failed and the court ruled that the 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.[19]

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

London King's Cross–Bradford Interchange[]

In March 2008, Grand Union submitted a track access application for paths on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) for services between Bradford and London. These follow a route from Bradford to Doncaster calling at Halifax, Brighouse, Wakefield Kirkgate and Pontefract Monkhill, via (but not stopping at) Askern, hitherto a freight-only route, before joining the ECML to London King's Cross. The company states that these are the first direct trains between Halifax and London for 32 years.

The plan was for up to six services in each direction per day, using Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSon-capable rolling stock, either further HSTs or Class 180 Adelante trains.[20] The Office of Rail Regulation approved the proposal in February 2009, but limited paths to three trains daily each way.[21]

It was hoped that the service would start in December 2009, but difficulties in securing rolling stock caused delay.[22] The service, dubbed "West Riding", started on 23 May 2010.[23] It is operated under the existing brand name of Grand Central Railway, the name Grand Northern Trains being the name of the development company which applied for the services.

Grand Central revealed that almost 1,500 passengers used the West Riding service in its first week, marginally better than expected.[24] However, it also temporarily cut the cost of tickets by 25% until 19 June 2010.[24]

An additional stop at Mirfield, between Brighouse and Wakefield, has been proposed by Grand Central and is supported by the local MP for Dewsbury, Simon Reevell.[25] Currently, Grand Central services pass through the station without stopping.


Unlike fellow open-access operator First Hull Trains, Grand Central did not previously release performance statistics and, because it is not a rail franchise holder, it was not obliged to do so. However, the latest performance statistics published by the ORR (Office for Rail Regulation) do include Grand Central. The PPM for the fourth quarter of 2009-2010 was 84.8%.[26]

In its National Passenger Survey for Autumn 2009, Passenger Focus reported an overall passenger satisfaction rating of 95% for Grand Central - the second highest score in the survey.[27] The highest score was for another open-access operator, Wrexham & Shropshire.

Rolling stock[]

Rolling stock procurement[]

File:GRAND CENTRAL 43067 D Kings Cross.JPG

Class 43 Power Car No. 43067 at London Kings Cross.

The difficulty with procuring rolling stock was a major factor in the delays Grand Central suffered in launching its open-access services. Grand Central originally planned to use a fleet of five of Bombardier Transportation's five-coach Class 222 Diesel-electric Multiple Unit (DEMU) 125 mph (Template:Convert/outsep) trains, similar to those already in use with Hull Trains and Midland Mainline, and related to the Class 220/221. However, there were difficulties in securing these units, leading Grand Central to make alternative plans.

On 5 October 2006, Grand Central said it had secured the use of six Class 43 power cars, and 24 Mark 3 trailer vehicles. The former loco-hauled Mark 3a coaches required complete rewiring in order to work with the power cars as they have different electrical requirements.[28] This caused the company's start date to be pushed back to 20 May 2007[29] and then again to September 2007, and again at a later update.

Current fleet[]

Grand Central's fleet currently totals eight trains. Three are HST sets formed of Class 43 (HST) power cars and Mark 3 coaches, and the other five are Class 180 sets.

HST - Class 43[]

The power cars, numbered 43065/067/068/080/084/123[30] all have buffers, since they were previously modified for use with Class 91 locomotives during the electrification of the East Coast Main Line. The coaches consist of six HST trailer vehicles (3 TRSB and 3 TGS) and 18 ex-locomotive-hauled Mk3a coaches originally built for the West Coast Main Line. Most of Grand Central's Class 43 power cars are fitted with Valenta engines, but these are due to be replaced with new MTU engines similar to those fitted to East Coast, CrossCountry and First Great Western HSTs. 43468 (formerly 43068) and 43480 (formerly 43080) now have MTU engines fitted and entered service on 21 September 2010; they have also been repainted with an orange stripe to match Grand Central's Class 180s.[31] 43065 and 43067 are now being re-engined by Brush Traction in Loughborough.[31]

Class 180[]

The Class 180 diesel multiple units, originally in service with First Great Western, were obtained when Grand Central was granted permission for a fourth daily service to and from Sunderland.[32] The first unit, 180112, was named James Herriot at a naming ceremony in July 2009, prior to its entry into service.[33] The remaining two units, 180105 and 180114, are due to enter service later in 2009.[34] Grand Central has secured two extra Class 180 units, 180101 and 180107, bringing the total number of units to five.[35] It has also been announced that the name Adelante will no longer be used to refer to the Class 180s, as it was with First Great Western. The Class 180 fleet is pooled between the additional Sunderland service and the services to and from Bradford.

Despite previous documentation, Grand Central does not title Class 180 units as "Zephyr".[citation needed] Rather, this name is being used for one of its Sunderland services as a named train.

 Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Number   Routes operated   Built 
 mph   km/h 
Class 43 High Speed Train 100px Diesel power car 125 200 6 London King's Cross - Sunderland 1976–1982
Mark 3 Coach 100px Passenger Coach 125 200 24 London King's Cross - Sunderland 1975–1988
Class 180 100px diesel multiple unit 125 200 5 London King's Cross - Sunderland
London King's Cross - Bradford Interchange

Future fleet[]

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 Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff, which would allow them to take advantage of any future speed-limit increases on the ECML.[36]

Directly Operated Railways, the company set up by the Department for Transport to operate the East Coast franchise, has stated its unhappiness with the Class 180 units obtained by National Express East Coast for the planned additional services specified in the franchise agreement, and has indicated that it wishes to return to the original proposal of using locomotive-hauled trains instead. The original plan was for 175 km/h (Template:Convert/outsep) trains pulled by Class 90 locomotives. However, DOR has raised the possibility of obtaining Grand Central's three 125 mph (200 km/h)-capable HSTs for these services, in exchange for the Class 180s currently under lease to NXEC/East Coast, giving Grand Central a single, uniform fleet.[37]

Past fleet[]

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.[38]

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 - either 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.[39] The Class 47s obtained in May 2008 were designated for a shuttle service between Sunderland and York to connect with the main HST service.


London King's Cross–Sunderland[]

Grand Central operates 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 call there.

During the first operational year, Grand Central ran two named trains. The Zephyr leaves from Sunderland on Monday-Friday mornings at 06:41. The evening peak northbound departure runs as The 21st Century Limited leaving from King's Cross at 16:50.[40] The naming is a homage[citation needed] to the American 20th Century Limited, now run as the Lake Shore Limited by Amtrak between New York and Chicago.

London King's Cross–Bradford Interchange[]

Grand Central also operate services from London King's Cross to Bradford Interchange. This service goes along the ECML, and diverges at Doncaster, from where the train uses the a former freight-only route to Pontefract and then via Wakefield and Brighouse on to the Caldervale Line to Halifax and Bradford.

Proposed future services[]

In addition to its services to Sunderland and Bradford, Grand Central has also expressed interest in a number of other routes. It had planned to double the number of Sunderland - London return services from December 2008. This aspiration was part of a wider track access application also involving Grand Union.

London-Blackpool North[]

In November 2010, Grand Central applied to the Office of Rail Regulation for a new service, running up to four times a day in each direction, between Blackpool North and London Euston. These services would call at Poulton-le-Fylde, Kirkham & Wesham, Preston, Hartford, Tamworth and Nuneaton. There would also be one extra service a day between Hartford and Euston calling additionally at Lichfield Trent Valley. Grand Central seek to run these services from May 2012.[41]


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.[42]

Grand Union[]

Grand Union developed a case for running services over an additional route, London Euston to Bradford Interchange via Huddersfield and the West Coast Main Line (WCML). This proposal was dropped due to difficulties involving Virgin Trains' moderation of competition protection.[citation needed]


Grand Central Railway has proposed a direct service from London to Lincoln, following the withdrawal of East Coast's proposed expansion of its current service between Lincoln and the capital.[43]

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). According to its on-board magazine, it is currently developing proposals for a Scarborough to London service.[citation needed]

Named trains[]

Grand Central has given names to two trains on its Sunderland route. Contrary to tradition in British named trains, these are not pairs of trains but individual one-way trips. In the 2008 timetable, the name The Zephyr is given to the early morning (06:41) departure from Sunderland, while the teatime (15:50) train from London is called The 21st Century Limited.

See also[]

  • List of named passenger trains of the United Kingdom


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  2. Full Grand Central service to begin on Saturday. Grand Central (29 February 2008).
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  13. Current Vehicle Change Proposals; Grand Central Class 180, Network Rail.
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  15. ORR Track Access Rights Applications - Proposed Decision 28 January 2009 ORR Website; Retrieved 2009-01-29
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  30. 125 History - Privatisation 2005 - Present. 125Group.
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External links[]

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