Anger at resort rail link delay

Great North Western Railway Alliance Rail Polaris train
Great North Western Railway Alliance Rail Polaris train
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RAIL firms bidding to supply Blackpool’s London rail link are split over the decision to postpone the scheme.

Bosses at Grand Central are fuming at the decision, while counterparts at Alliance Rail Holdings have given the news a cautious welcome.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) refused bids for the open access rail agreement from both firms, stating a full reworking of the West Coast Main Line timetable was needed before any services could start.

A spokesman for Grand Central said: “We are surprised and disappointed by the announcement the ORR must await a full recast of the timetable before considering whether or not open access operators can serve destinations along the West Coast Main Line.

“Our proposed service would have used existing capacity and rolling stock to introduce regular daily services from May 2012 linking Blackpool North, Poulton, and Kirkham and Wesham with London Euston.

“Our timetable for the proposed North Western service was robust and written by the industry expert who drew up the current West Coast timetable while at Network Rail.”

The ORR refused Grand Central’s bid on the grounds it was, “abstractive” – that it would take business from existing operators without an adequate offsetting of benefits.

Alliance’s bid was turned down as it was incomplete by the deadline.

The firm wanted to use new rolling stock on the line, and would not have been in a position to start services until 2013 at the earliest. Grand Central would have used trains already in use on the network and could have started services much earlier.

Ian Yeoward of Alliance, part of the Arriva group, said: “Our application involves new trains and we were never expecting to start services before 2013.

“You don’t want to be going to London at 110mph with other trains overtaking you all the time at 120mph – that’s not good for Blackpool.

“A delay of two to three years is a blink of an eye in railway terms.

“We said to the ORR that if they looked at the timetable, they could probably accommodate a lot more services which will be even better for Blackpool, and other places including Barrow and West Yorkshire.”

Alliance and Grand Central are in talks with the ORR about their bids and have been welcomed to re-submit their proposals once the timetable has been redrawn.

The decisions means Virgin Rail remains the sole operator on the line for 18 months longer than expected.