Open access operators suspend services

HULL TRAINS and Grand Central both suspended all their services in the wake of falling demand due to coronavirus. As open access operators the companies were not eligible for the support available to franchisees through emergency arrangements, and both reported the fall in demand led to continued operation becoming unsustainable. Hull Trains withdrew its services from 30 March, while Grand Central axed its operations from close of service on 3 April for an initial two-month period while also delaying the launch of its new West Coast main line service between Euston and Blackpool until early 2021.

Service suspended: Hull Trains bi-mode No 802303 at Doncaster on 16 March 2020 with a King’s Cross to Hull service, two weeks before the operator withdrew its operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Russell Wykes

Hull Trains had initially cut its timetable to two return trips on weekdays and a single daily return service at weekends from 20 March. However, the operator said without additional support it needed to suspend services to safeguard the future of the business in light of falling revenue. FirstGroup’s Rail MD Steve Montgomery said the operator had sought agreement to be included in the Government’s emergency measures but had not been successful.

From 23 March Grand Central reduced its service to two return trips daily on its London to Bradford and London to Sunderland routes. Just under two weeks later it confirmed it would not continue operating services, and in a statement MD Richard McClean said: ‘[The] situation is unsustainable and, following several days of discussion with the Department for Transport, Grand Central has decided to suspend all its services, for an initial two months, from the end of service on Friday 3 April.’

GC had been planning to launch its new service between Blackpool and Euston on 31 May with a full timetable commencing in December, but Mr McClean said this had been paused until early 2021. Also on hold is the launch of additional trains on the Sunderland to King’s Cross route.

The other open access service, Heathrow Express, reduced its frequency from quarter-hourly to half-hourly from Paddington to the airport from 22 March.