Grand Central (train operating company)

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Grand Central
Kings Cross station 2018 1.jpg
Franchise(s)Open access operator
Not subject to franchising
18 December 2007 – December 2026
Main route(s)Sunderland - London King's Cross
Bradford Interchange - London King's Cross
Fleet size10x Class 180 Adelantes
Stations called at15
Stations operated0
Parent companyArriva UK Trains
Route map
Route map

Grand Central[1] is an open-access operator of train services in the United Kingdom, owned by Arriva UK Trains. It has operated passenger rail services on the East Coast Main Line from Sunderland to London King's Cross since December 2007; and from Bradford Interchange to London King's Cross since May 2010.[2] The company also plans to operate between London Euston and Blackpool North via the West Coast Main Line, starting from Spring 2020.[3]


43080 at London King's Cross on 18 December 2007, the first day of Grand Central services

The origins of Grand Central can be traced back to the privatisation of British Rail, when bids were lodged for the Midland Mainline and Regional Railways North East franchises by Ian Yeowart and a consortium of ex-British Rail managers under the Grand Central name.[4][5][6][7][8][9] The company was dissolved in March 1998.[4]

In April 2000 a new company, Grand Central Railway Company Ltd, was founded to pursue open-access opportunities.[10][11]

In 2003 Grand Central applied to the Office of Rail Regulation to operate a two-hourly open-access service from Newcastle via the Caldervale Line and Manchester Victoria to Bolton using ex Virgin CrossCountry InterCity 125 trains.[12][13] The application was rejected in June 2004.[14][15][16][17][18]

Coach operator Fraser Eagle Group purchased a 79% shareholding in Grand Central in 2004.[19]

In February 2005 Grand Central applied to the Office of Rail Regulation to operate four daily services from Sunderland to London King's Cross and four daily services from Bradford Interchange to London King's Cross using Class 67 locomotives hauling five Mark 3 carriages and a Driving Van Trailer.[20][21][22][23] In March 2006 the Office of Rail Regulation granted Grand Central access rights for three daily Sunderland to London King's Cross services.[24][25][26] After failing at an Office of Rail Regulation hearing to have the process reversed, GNER sought a judicial review of the decision to grant Grand Central access rights but was rejected by the High Court in July 2006.[27][28][29]

Fraser Eagle sold its 79% shareholding in Grand Central in March 2007 to two former managers of Prism Rail, backed by a private equity group.[30][31][32]

Operations were due to start in May 2007, but delays in procuring and then refurbishing rolling stock delayed this.[33][34][35]

Operations began on 18 December 2007 between Sunderland and London King's Cross. While awaiting delivery of all of the rolling stock, initially only one Sunderland - Kings Cross and one York - Kings Cross service operated in each direction.[36][37] [38] The full timetable was introduced in March 2008.[39] Mechanical problems with the InterCity 125s led to services being regularly cancelled, resulting in a reduced service being operated from May until July 2008.[40][41]

In March 2008 Grand Central applied to the Office of Rail Regulation to operate three daily services from Bradford Interchange to London King's Cross.[42][43] In January 2009 Grand Central was granted access rights for three daily Bradford Interchange to London King's Cross services until December 2014 and a fourth Sunderland to London King's Cross service until May 2012.[44][45] In August 2009 the fourth daily Sunderland - London service started.[46][47]

The Office of Rail Regulation announced in February 2010 that all access rights had been extended until December 2016.[48]

On 23 May 2010 Grand Central services between Bradford Interchange and London King's Cross began.[49][50][51][52][53] It was hoped that the service would start in December 2009, but difficulties in securing rolling stock caused delay.[54]

In November 2011 Grand Central was bought out by Arriva UK Trains.[55][56][57] At the time of the takeover, Grand Central had 123 employees, a turnover of £18.9m and debts of £44m.[58]

From December 2011 Bradford services made an additional stop at Mirfield.[59] In December 2012, a fifth service on the Sunderland to London route, however due to pathing difficulties it initially commenced at Hartlepool.[60] In December 2013, a fourth daily Bradford to London Kings Cross service commenced.[61]

In August 2014, Grand Central was granted an extension of its operating rights until December 2026.[62][63][64]

Routes and services[edit]

Current services[edit]

Grand Central (E) Services
Bradford Interchange
Low Moor
Sunderland Tyne and Wear Metro
Wakefield Kirkgate
Pontefract Monkhill
Kings Cross London Underground

Grand Central connects Yorkshire and the North East to London with two routes.

Five daily services on the North East to London route run between Sunderland and London King's Cross calling at Hartlepool, Eaglescliffe, Northallerton, Thirsk and York. This route is known as the North Eastern service.[65] Grand Central has in the past given names to two trains on this route. Contrary to tradition in British named train services, these were individual one-way trips rather than pairs. In the 2008 timetable, the name The Zephyr was given to the early morning (06:41) departure from Sunderland, while the evening (16:50) train from London was called The 21st Century Limited. As of the 2012 timetable, these names are no longer used by the company.

Four daily services which run on the Yorkshire to London route operate between Bradford Interchange and London King's Cross calling at Low Moor, Halifax, Brighouse, Mirfield, Wakefield Kirkgate, and Doncaster. Some services also call at Pontefract Monkhill. This is known as the West Riding (or West Yorkshire) service.[65]

Service Route tpd Calling at
North Eastern London King's Cross to Sunderland 5 York, Thirsk, Northallerton, Eaglescliffe, Hartlepool
4 trains per day on Sundays
West Riding London King's Cross to Bradford Interchange 4 Doncaster, Pontefract Monkhill, Wakefield Kirkgate, Mirfield, Brighouse, Halifax, Low Moor
Pontefract Monkhill is served by 3 trains southbound and 2 trains northbound on weekdays, 4 trains southbound and 1 train northbound on Saturdays, and no trains in either direction on Sundays.

Future Services[edit]

Blackpool North to London Euston[edit]

Grand Central (W) Services
Blackpool North Blackpool tramway
Kirkham and Wesham
Milton Keynes Central
Euston London Underground London Overground

Sister company Great North Western Railway originally re-applied for paths with former Virgin Trains East Coast InterCity 225 sets to commence operating a service between Blackpool North and London Euston from September 2019. As these will not able to tilt, their speed would be restricted to 110mph. Due to the lower speed, the revised service would only call at Milton Keynes, Nuneaton, Preston, Kirkham & Wesham and Poulton-le-Fylde.[66][67]

In June 2018, the Office of Rail and Road approved the new application for a 7-year track access application for 5 direct services from Blackpool North to London Euston, calling at Poulton-le-Fylde, Kirkham and Wesham, Preston, Nuneaton and Milton Keynes Central from September 2019. [68][69] An option for a 6th service in the future is available. The new service will utilise the Mark 4 coaches as planned, but with Class 90 rather than Class 91 locomotives.[70]

Grand Central will these begin operations in Spring 2020, having in June 2019 been transferred the proposed services from GNWR owner Alliance Rail. [71]

Proposed Services[edit]

London Kings Cross to Cleethorpes[edit]

In December 2017, Grand Central announced plans to bid for a service from London Kings Cross to Cleethorpes in early 2018 for a date of 2020. It would involve the existing Bradford Interchange service extended to 10 coaches from London to Doncaster then dividing with five coaches going to Cleethorpes via Scunthorpe, Barnetby, Habrough and Grimsby.[72] The other five coaches would be the existing service to Bradford Interchange. This proposal would require permission for a split of trains as it has not been used on the East Coast Main Line before.[73] In February 2018, Grand Central announced plans for an additional call at Crowle.[74] It plans to operate 4 trains per day from 2020.[75] However in July 2018, the Office of Rail and Road announced new access charges which would affect the business case for the new service so Grand Central announced it would delay bidding until 2019.[76]

Extra Bradford and Sunderland Services[edit]

In March 2018, Grand Central announced that it had applied for six services from London to Sunderland, up from five now, and six services from London to Bradford Interchange, up from four now, which would use Adelante trains.[77]

York to London Kings Cross[edit]

In May 2018, Grand Central announced plans to add an additional evening service before 10pm between York to London. This service would be 10 carriages long.[78]

Wakefield Kirkgate to London Kings Cross[edit]

Grand Central applied for an additional early morning service and an evening services from London to Wakefield which was lodged to the Office of Rail & Road but was rejected because it did not meet the economic criteria. [79][80] However in May 2018, Grand Central reapplied for the service[81]This would see one train per day in each direction between London Kings Cross and Wakefield, one in the morning and one in the evening.


Grand Central also proposed an additional stop at Peterborough but this was rejected. This would see four services per day call here and Sunderland to London Kings Cross would provide this service.[82] In May 2018, Grand Central reapplied for the service.[83]

Formerly proposed services[edit]

Grand Central also previously expressed interest in operating other services.

York to Chester[edit]

In February 2005, Grand Central lodged an application with the Office of Rail Regulation to operate a three times a day York to Chester via the Caldervale Line service with Class 158s. This service would have called at Leeds, Wakefield Kirkgate, Brighouse, Rochdale, Manchester Victoria and Warrington Bank Quay.[20][84]

Bradford Interchange to London Euston[edit]

In September 2006 Grand Central announced a proposal to run services from Bradford Interchange via Huddersfield and the West Coast Main Line to London Euston. This service would have called at Halifax, Brighouse, Huddersfield, Stalybridge, Guide Bridge, Stockport, Crewe, Lichfield Trent Valley, Tamworth and Nuneaton.[85][86][87] The proposal was dropped due to Virgin Trains' Moderation of Competition protection preventing any other operators from operating on the West Coast Main Line.[88]

Lincoln to London King's Cross[edit]

In June 2010 following East Coast deciding not to proceed with plans for a proposed two hourly service between Lincoln and London King's Cross, Grand Central expressed an interest in running services, but was rejected. This service would have called at Newark North Gate and Grantham.[89]

Blackpool North to London Euston[edit]

In November 2010 Grand Central applied to the Office of Rail Regulation to operate a new service running four times a day in each direction, between Blackpool North and London Euston via the West Coast Main Line calling at Poulton-le-Fylde, Kirkham & Wesham, Preston, Hartford, Tamworth and Nuneaton. Grand Central sought to run these services from May 2012, using Class 67 locomotives hauling nine Mark 3 carriages and a Driving Van Trailer running at up to 110 miles per hour (177 km/h), until such time as the Blackpool North - Preston line was electrified.[90][91] In March 2011 the Office of Rail Regulation rejected the application on the basis the service would be primarily abstractive, meaning it would generate most of its revenue by drawing custom away from existing operators rather than bringing new custom to the rail network.[92]

Rolling stock[edit]

Mark 3 standard class interior
43067 at King's Cross in the original livery in February 2009

Grand Central's application to the Office of Rail Regulation in February 2005 had proposed using Class 67 locomotives hauling five Mark 3 carriages and a Driving Van Trailer.[20] As the paths were only granted on the basis of 125 mph stock being used, other stock had to be sourced. It was then proposed to use a fleet of Bombardier Transportation five-carriage Class 222s, similar to those already in use with Midland Mainline and Hull Trains.[25][93] Difficulty in securing these led to Grand Central deciding to use High Speed Trains.[94]

In October 2006 sister company Sovereign Trains purchased six Class 43 power cars and 24 Mark 3 trailer vehicles from Porterbrook.[95] The Class 43s, that all had buffers fitted when they were modified in the late 1980s for use with the Class 91 locomotives during the electrification of the East Coast Main Line, were sent for overhaul at DML, Plymouth.[96][97] The Mark 3s were overhauled at Marcroft Engineering, Stoke-on-Trent. Eighteen of the Mark 3s were former Virgin Trains West Coast loco-hauled carriages that required rewiring in order to work with the power cars due to different electrical requirements.[98][99]

Due to delays encountered during the overhauls, Grand Central investigated leasing spare InterCity 125s from Midland Mainline.[100] However nothing came of this and it was not until December 2007 that enough stock had been delivered for operations to commence. The full fleet was in service by March 2008.[101][102][103]

Problems encountered with the rolling stock with at one stage all six power cars out of traffic, saw Grand Central hire Class 67s from English Welsh & Scottish, Class 47s from Riviera Trains and Class 57s from Virgin Trains to haul Riviera Trains Mark 2 carriages on shuttles from Sunderland to York in summer 2008 as well as InterCity power cars from Midland Mainline.[104][105][106][107]

In March 2010 the InterCity 125s were sold to Angel Trains which funded an overhaul including repowering the Class 43s at Brush Traction with MTU 16V4000R41 engines.[108][109][110][111]

To operate the fourth Sunderland service two Class 180s were leased from Angel Trains in 2009[112][113][114][115] followed in 2010 by another three to operate the Bradford services.[116][117] Before entering service, 180112 was named James Herriot in July 2009.[118] The remaining two units, 180105 and 180114, entered service later in 2009.[119] Grand Central secured two further Class 180s, 180101 and 180107, bringing the total number to five.[120] The Class 180 fleet operate both Sunderland and Bradford services, with the InterCity 125 trains usually only operating services to Sunderland, although they have operated to Bradford on occasions.[121]

Initially Grand Central adopted an all black livery with doors painted gold (first class) and silver (standard class). When the 180s were introduced an orange band was introduced.[122]

Grand Central withdrew its HST fleet at the end of 2017, with a transfer to East Midlands Trains for the three six-car sets. The company received five Class 180 Adelante sets from GWR, made available due to the rollout of the Intercity Express Programme.[123]

Current fleet[edit]

 Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Carriages   Number   Routes operated   Built 
 mph   km/h 
Class 180 Adelante Kings Cross station 2018 1.jpg DMU 125 201 5 10 London King's Cross - Sunderland/Bradford Interchange 2001

Future fleet[edit]

The number of sets to be procured for services between Blackpool North and London Euston has not yet been confirmed. Each set is planned to operate with seven[124] Mark 4 carriages, pulled by a Class 90 locomotive.[70].

 Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Number   Carriages   Notes
 mph   km/h 
Class 90 Class 90 90018 DB Schenker JP Euxton 14 Oct 16.jpg Electric locomotive 110 177 TBC 2 + 7
Mark 4 carriage Rake of VTEC Mark 4 London Kings Cross 1.jpg Passenger carriage 140 225 TBC
Driving Van Trailer Peterborough - LNER 82224 (Virgin livery).JPG Driving Van Trailer 140 225 TBC

Past fleet[edit]

 Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Carriages   Number   Routes operated   Built   Withdrawn 
 mph   km/h 
Class 43 (HST) King's Cross railway station MMB 94 43467.jpg Diesel locomotive 125 201 N/A 6 London King's Cross - Sunderland 1976–82 2017 (Transferred to East Midlands Trains)
Mark 3 IC125@40 - TF 41202 at York.JPG Passenger carriage 125 201 6 18 1976–82


Grand Central's fleet is maintained at Heaton and Crofton depots. Between the 2011 Arriva takeover and the fleet's retirement in 2017, heavy maintenance on the InterCity 125 was performed at Arriva TrainCare, Crewe.[125]


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External links[edit]

Media related to Grand Central Railway at Wikimedia Commons