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Grand Central Railway Company Ltd is a privately-owned train operating company running services under the name Grand Central within the United Kingdommarker.

The company is an open access operator on the rail network and runs a service linking Sunderlandmarker, Hartlepoolmarker, Eaglescliffemarker, Northallertonmarker, Thirskmarker, Yorkmarker and London King's Crossmarker. Services began on 18 December 2007 using an interim timetable until all rolling stock was available. The full timetable was launched in March 2008 and a fourth daily service was added on 17 August 2009.


Grand Central operates four return trips per day between North East England and Londonmarker, along the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and the Durham Coast Line. Initially one return trip from Sunderland, and two from Yorkmarker were offered until all rolling stock became available to allow a full service to commence.

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 Transportmarker (DfT)-run franchises, including most of the principal National Rail train service operators.

The route launched covers a distance of with over two-thirds of that distance run non-stop between York stationmarker and London King's Cross. The service is operated using rebuilt HST and refurbshed Class 180 Zehphys rolling-stock capable of ; procuring and renovating sufficient compatible rolling-stock had been blamed by the company for delaying the launch.


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 purchased 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 the Fraser Eagle Group for a sum of £10 million on 13 March 2007.

Grand Central originally planned to operate high-speed train services between Newcastle upon Tynemarker and Manchestermarker across the Calder Valleymarker. This proposal was rejected by the Rail Regulator in 2004.

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 date for the start of service being put back to May 2007. However, further delays in refurbishing rolling stock for the service delayed the start further, with the service planned to begin in September 2007, then November.

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 any entry into 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. Grand Central's initial services were restricted by the amount of rolling stock they 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.

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. 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.

Full services were eventually resumed in the middle of July.

Grand Central's agreement allowed for a fourth daily service, which could not be met by the existing fleet. As a consequence, Grand Central procured a pair of Class 180 Adelantes. Permission to run the Class 180s was granted by Network Rail in June 2008. The ORR gave Grand Central clearance to run the extra service awarded in January 2009, with the service expected to start in May.

Grand Central is not yet a profitable operation and in August 2009 it posted an £8 million loss. 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.

Competition with other services

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

The ECML is one of the busiest lines on the 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 Bradfordmarker. It had proposed splitting and joining the Sunderland and Bradford trains at , with a single service to and from London King's Cross 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 East Coast Main Line from Grand Central. The regulatory hearing at the ORR saw strong objections to Grand Central's services from GNER, but these were rejected. GNER then challenged the legality of the ORR's decisions by bringing a judicial review of ORR's decision in the High Court. On 27 July 2006, GNER's case failed and the High Court ruled that the ORR's 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.

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


Unlike fellow open-access operator First Hull Trains, Grand Central has yet to release performance statistics and, because it is not a rail franchise holder, the company is not obliged to do so.

Rolling stock

Rolling stock procurement

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

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

Current fleet

Grand Central's fleet currently consists of a total of eight trains. Three of these are HST sets formed of Class 43 (HST) power cars and Mark 3 coaches, and the other five are made up of Class 180 Zephyrs.

HST - Class 43

The power cars, numbered 43065/067/068/080/084/123 all have buffers since they were all previously modified for use with Class 91 locomotives before the Mark 4 sets were available. The coaches consist of six HST trailer vehicles (3 TRSB and 3 TGS) and 18 ex locomotive hauled Mk3a coaches built for the West Coast Main Linemarker.

Zephyr - 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. The first unit, 180112, was named James Herriot at a naming ceremony in July 2009, prior to its entry into service. The remaining two units, 180105 and 180114, are due to enter service later in 2009. Grand Central has secured two extra Class 180 units, 180101 and 180107, bringing the total number of units to five. 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. Instead the units will be referred to as Zephyrs, in keeping with the American theme of the company. The Class 180 fleet is expected to be pooled between the additional Sunderland service and the planned services to Bradford.

 Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Number   Routes operated   Built 
 mph   km/h 
Class 43 High Speed Train Diesel locomotive 125 200 6 London King's Crossmarker - Sunderlandmarker 1976–1982
Mark 3 Coach Passenger Coach 125 200 24 London King's Crossmarker - Sunderlandmarker 1975–1988
Class 180 Zephyr diesel multiple unit 125 200 5 London King's Crossmarker - Sunderlandmarker 2001

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 Chinamarker. These new express trains could be capable of up to , which will allow them to take advantage of any future speed limit increases on the ECML.

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 trains pulled by Class 90 locomotives. However, DOR has raised the possibility of obtaining Grand Central's three capable HSTs for these services, for which it would transfer the Class 180s under lease to NXEC, giving Grand Central a single, uniform fleet.

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.

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 - this has been 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. The Class 47s obtained in May 2008 were designated for a shuttle service between Sunderland and to connect with the main HST service.


Geographical representation of the route
Grand Central operate services from London King's Cross to Sunderlandmarker. The service passes through the stations at Seahammarker, Billinghammarker, Stockton-on-Teesmarker and Yarmmarker but does not serve them.

Grand Central runs two named trains. The Zephyr leaves from Sunderland on Monday-Friday mornings at 06:46. The evening peak northbound departure runs asThe 21st Century Limited leaving from King's Cross at 16:50. The naming is a homage to the American 20th Century Limited, now run as the Lake Shore Limited by Amtrak between New Yorkmarker and Chicagomarker.

Proposed future services

In addition to its services to Sunderland, Grand Central has also expressed plans for a number of other routes. Grand Central plan to double the number of Sunderland - London Kings Cross return services from December 2008. This is part of a wider track access application also involving Grand Union.


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.

In August 2009 it was confirmed a new service between London and Bradford Interchnge would start in May 2010. It is envisaged that the three return services a day between Bradford Interchange, Halifax, Brighouse, Wakefield, Pontefract, Doncaster and London King’s Cross will operate using Class 180s leased from Angel trains.

Grand Union

As part of its original proposal, Grand Central also sought to run services between Kings Cross and Bradford. This proposal has evolved into one directed through Grand Union to operate up to six trains per day in each direction in the March 2008 application. The ORR granted the company paths for three trains in each direction via this route in January 2009, which were applied for under the name Grand Northern, but which will operate under the Grand Central banner, which will allow the use of a common pooled fleet.

Grand Union developed a case for running services over two additional routes; Doncaster to Bradford Interchangemarker, and London Eustonmarker to Bradford Interchange via . Grand Northern's route will see it call at Doncaster, while the proposal from Euston via the WCML was dropped due to difficulties involving Virgin Trains' moderation of competition protection.

Other proposed routes

Grand Central was originally linked with a proposal to run shortened HSTs between Newcastle and Prestonmarker, via the Durhammarker Coast, York, Wakefieldmarker, Brighousemarker, Rochdalemarker and Manchester. It later suggested a York to Chestermarker service to be run by DMUs (probably Class 158s displaced from TransPennine Express). Neither of these proposals was approved. According to their on board magazine they are currently devolping proposals for a Scarborough to London service.


  1. Grand Central starts fourth train to King's Cross - Sunderland Echo (17 August 2009)
  2. Former Prism bosses buy Grand Central in £10 million deal The Independent 14/03/07
  3. Train firm forced to cut services BBC News, 20 May 2008
  4. New delay for troubled rail firm BBC Tees News, July 7th 2008
  5. = Network Rail - Current Vehicle Change Proposals; Grand Central Class 180
  6. Network Rail, Network Rail acceptance of proposed Vehicle Change Grand Central Class 180, 2008-06-11.
  7. ORR Track Access Rights Applications - Proposed Decision 28 January 2009 ORR Website; Retrieved 2009-01-29
  8. From Tom Clift, Managing Director, 29/12/08
  9. Network Rail Network Rail acceptance of proposed vehicle change, 2008-06-11.
  10. Rail Issue 624 page 15
  11. Today's Railways Issue 93 (september) page 11
  12. The Railway Centre Picture of the Day Index 06/05/08, 15/05/08
  13. Grand Union - Track Access Rights on the East Coast Main Line, Office of the Rail Regulator, 28/03/08

External links


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