Saturday 16 March 2024

He Wants To Run A Train Company

Another Train Company ...

This man is Ian Yeowart, founder of the Grand Central Railway company, an early contender to run open access services on the UK's national rail network. Currently Grand Central runs trains from Kings Cross to Sunderland and from Kings Cross to Bradford.
At various times the holders of the East Coast main line franchise have operated a nominal Monday to Friday one train each way to Bradford via Leeds. Apart from this, neither Bradford nor Sunderland has enjoyed a proper service to London for many a long year.

The current Grand Central frequencies are hardly lavish but they are the best of any recent offering.
Four to Bradford, five to Sunderland Monday to Friday ...
... with similar at weekends.

The gestation period for the Grand Central company was long and complex, far too intricate for a simple minded blogger like fbb. So he will limit himself to a slightly expurgated version of that provided by the sainted Wikipedia. Today's business is very much the second attempt at launching Grand Central - the first go being a failure! But young Ian stuck at it!

On 18 December 2007, operations commenced between Sunderland and London King's Cross. While awaiting delivery of all of the rolling stock, Grand Central initially operated only one Sunderland and King's Cross and one York and King's Cross service in each direction. During March 2008, the full timetable was introduced. Mechanical problems with the InterCity 125 fleet ...
... led to services being regularly cancelled.

During March 2008, Grand Central applied to the ORR to operate three daily services from Bradford Interchange to London King's Cross. In January 2009, it was granted access rights for three daily Bradford Interchange to King's Cross services and a fourth Sunderland to London King's Cross service.

On 23 May 2010, Grand Central services between Bradford Interchange and King's Cross began. It had been hoped that the service would start in December 2009, but difficulties in securing rolling stock caused delay.

The chosen stock (whatever the company could get!) for Bradford was from the Adelante collection.
HSTs were not route-approved for Grand Cental's wiggle into Bradford Interchange which leaf to at least one occasion when an HST was rostered and the poot passengers were turfed out at Wakefield Kirkgate to continue their merry way by bus! The railway rumour machine does not reveal whether the allocation of an HST was due to stock shortage or a management bludner!

The service was innovative in many ways. Initially a more attractive fares system was applied, but, later, national fare scale normality returned. The picture of Marilyn Monroe at the real Grand Inion Station ...
... adorned the end panels of some of the carriages, but neither her ghost not a paid lookalike ever appeared - shame! What also never appeared was the full restaurant service as originally promised in the pre-service hype.

One intriguing offer ...
... was board gane boards for the bored. Boxes of appropriate paraphernalia were available from the buffet. fbb did not travel that often but never saw anyone participating!

Some of the stations used left a lot to be desired. The stop at Eaglescliffe (for Middlesbrough), although well placed geographically, was an unstaffed dump ...
... with a hut. Things are a little better nowadays - but not much! At least it now has a better hut!
In November 2011, Grand Central was bought out by Arriva UK Trains for an undisclosed amount. At the time of the takeover, Grand Central had 123 employees, a turnover of £18.9 million and debts of £44 million.

fbb is no expert on Corporate Finance - but understands that "turnover" is not a lot of use unless it brings profits. His guess is that Grand Central was "up against it" with insufficient earnings to serviced big debt. Arriva, presumably, saw a brighter financial future, although not that good as Deutsche Bahn started on a sell-off mission fairly soon after purchase.

And Another New Route ...
In the lead-up to the takeover by Arriva, Mr Y had been working hard on a direct service from Blackpool to London Euston, similar in style to the two above. He had, eventually, got his "access rights"; some electric locos had been booked from freight operator Deutsche Bahn (as above) and rakes of yellow-stripe coaches were due to whizz up and down the main line to Euston under an intensive driver training scheme.

Train times were published ...
... with five return trips Monday to Saturday and four on Sunday. There was even a seating plan for those refurbished mark 4 coaches.
Then Arriva abruptly pulled the plug citing unviability as a result of the Covid pandemic.
Yeah, right! 

More likely, the Arriva bean counters had realised how tricky things were deep down with the existing trains to Bradford and Sunderland and thus decided train operating was not much fun financially and would not be much fun in the foreseeable future - even when Covid was crushed.

And Another Train Company ...

Having given up his Grand Central train set, Ian Yeowart was nothing if not determined. After a lengthy struggle he was awarded access rights to run from Carmarthen to London Paddington. His new company, maintaining the historic USA theme, is known as Grand Union (without Marilyn this time).

The route is shown below:-
and continued.
The stop at Severn Tunnel Junction is even less attractive than Eaglescliffe ...
... but with twice as many platforms. Oh yes? Cardiff Parkway station does not exist - yet. 

So when will the Grand Union Carmarthen service start?

Well, the boss has a minor problem. He ain't got no trains! 

New trains are very expensive and 800 class bi-modes are hyper expensive. All the HSTs have gone or are going and there are no spare Adelantes left.


And Another New Route ...

Mr Yeowart, whilst searching for Carmarthen trains down the back of the rail supply industry sofa, has now won some open access "slots" between Stirling and Euston. He's a bit older now ...
... but still as determined as ever to get these services running. Here is the Stirling route.
/.. continuing south to London.
This time he reckons that he has found some spare trains lying around (technical term, "off lease"). There are some Meridians from East Midland Trains ...
... and class 221 Super Voyagers (effectively the same type of train).
Ian does not tell us whether they are ex CrossCountry or ex Virgin 221s but rolling stock experts will know.

What he does tell us is that they will be reconfigured (expensively???) to offer 2 + 1  seating for standard class. Presumably as reliable an offer as that for full catering on trains to Sunderland.

We are also told that the lease of Voyager/Meridian units will be a stop-gap measure until he can get some proper (new?) trains.

Hope his piggy bank is full to overflowing?

But, as they say, who would want to run a railway company?

 Next Variety blog : Sunday 17th March 


  1. Grand Union is a British transport term, the canal of the same name almost preceding a large country to the west of the Atlantic.

  2. Andrew Kleissner16 March 2024 at 13:39

    Perfectly true, but it has nothing to do with Wales!