Grand Central Railway

Not to be confused with Great Central Railway or Central Railway (UK).
Grand Central

Class 180 at London Kings Cross in August 2012
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 size: 3 High Speed Trains
5 Class 180s
Stations called at: 14
Stations operated: 0
Parent company: Arriva UK Trains
Route map

Grand Central[1] is an independent open-access operator in the United Kingdom. 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] It is a subsidiary of Arriva UK Trains.


43080 at London Kings 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.[3][4][5][6][7][8] The company was dissolved in March 1998.[3]

In April 2000 a new company, Grand Central Railway Company Ltd, was founded to pursue open-access opportunities.[9][10]

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 High Speed Trains.[11][12] The application was rejected in June 2004.[13][14][15][16][17]

Coach operator Fraser Eagle Group purchased a 79% shareholding in Grand Central in 2004.[18]

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.[19][20][21][22] In March 2006 the Office of Rail Regulation granted Grand Central access rights for three daily Sunderland to London King's Cross services, but only with 125 mph-capable rolling stock, ruling out the Class 67 option.[23][24][25] 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.[26][27][28]

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.[29][30][31]

Operations were due to start in May 2007, but delays in procuring and then refurbishing rolling stock delayed this.[32][33][34]

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.[35][36] [37]The full timetable was introduced in March 2008.[38] Mechanical problems with the High Speed Trains led to services being regularly cancelled, resulting in a reduced service being operated from May until July 2008.[39][40]

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.[41][42] 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.[43][44] In August 2009 the fourth daily Sunderland - London service started.[45][46]

The Office of Rail Regulation announced in February 2010 that all access rights had been extended until December 2016.[47]

On 23 May 2010 Grand Central services between Bradford Interchange and London King's Cross began.[48][49][50][51][52] It was hoped that the service would start in December 2009, but difficulties in securing rolling stock caused delay.[53]

In November 2011 Grand Central was bought out by Arriva UK Trains.[54][55][56] At the time of the takeover, Grand Central had 123 employees, a turnover of £18.9m and debts of £44m.[57]

From December 2011 Bradford services made an additional stop at Mirfield.[58] In December 2012, a fifth service on the Sunderland to London route, however due to pathing difficulties it initially commenced at Hartlepool.[59] In December 2013, a fourth daily Bradford to London Kings Cross service commenced.[60]

In August 2014, Grand Central was granted an extension of its operating rights until December 2026.[61][62][63]

Routes and services

43465 at Hartlepool in January 2011
North East route diagram
Sunderland Tyne and Wear Metro
London King's Cross London Underground
West Riding route diagram
Bradford Interchange
Wakefield Kirkgate
Pontefract Monkhill
London King's 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".[64]

Four daily services which run on the Yorkshire to London route operate between Bradford Interchange and London King's Cross calling at 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.[64]

Named services

Grand Central has given names to two trains on its Sunderland route. Contrary to tradition in British named train services, these are not pairs but individual one-way trips. 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. No mention of these was made from the 2012 timetable.

Future services

In May 2018 Grand Central will commence operating services on the West Coast Main Line from London Euston to Blackpool after the Office of Rail and Road granted fellow Arriva subsidiary Alliance Rail Holdings access rights for 10 years.[65][66]

Rolling stock

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.[19] 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.[24][67] Difficulty in securing these led to Grand Central deciding to use High Speed Trains.[68]

In October 2006 sister company Sovereign Trains purchased six Class 43 power cars and 24 Mark 3 trailer vehicles from Porterbrook.[69] 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.[70][71] The Mark 3s were overhauled at Marcroft Engineering, Stoke-on-Trent. Eighteen of the Mark 3s were former Virgin West Coast loco-hauled carriages that required rewiring in order to work with the power cars due to different electrical requirements.[72][73]

Due to delays encountered during the overhauls, Grand Central investigated leasing spare High Speed Trains from Midland Mainline.[74] However nothing came of this and it wasn't until December 2007 that enough stock had been delivered for operations to commence. The full fleet was in service by March 2008.[75][76][77]

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 High Speed Train power cars from Midland Mainline.[78][79][80][81]

In March 2010 the High Speed Trains were sold to Angel Trains who funded an overhaul including repowering the Class 43s at Brush Traction with MTU 16V4000R41 engines.[82][83][84][85]

To operate the fourth Sunderland service two Class 180s were leased from Angel Trains in 2009[86][87][88][89] followed in 2010 by another three to operate the Bradford services.[90][91] Before entering service, 180112 was named James Herriot in July 2009.[92] The remaining two units, 180105 and 180114, entered service later in 2009.[93] Grand Central secured two further Class 180s, 180101 and 180107, bringing the total number to five.[94] 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.[95]

Initially Grand Central adopted an all dark brown livery with doors painted gold (first class) and silver (standard class). When the 180s were introduced an orange band was introduced.[96]

 Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Carriages   Number   Routes operated   Built 
 mph   km/h 
Class 43 High Speed Train Diesel Locomotive 125 200 N/A 6 Sunderland - London King's Cross 1976–1982
Mark 3 Carriage Passenger Carriage 125 200 16 Sunderland - London King's Cross 1975–1988
Class 180 Diesel multiple unit 125 200 5 5 Bradford Interchange/Sunderland - London King's Cross 2001

Future Fleet

In September 2014 Grand Central announced it would operate an all-Class 180 fleet from 2017 after agreeing a lease for five currently operated by Great Western Railway with the High Speed Trains to be withdrawn.[97][98] Grand Central will purchase four Pendolino trains for its West Coast services.[99]

 Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Carriages   Number   Routes operated   Built 
 mph   km/h 
Pendolino Electric multiple unit 125 200 6 4 Blackpool - London Euston

Proposed services

In addition to its Kings Cross to Sunderland and Bradford services, Grand Central also expressed interest in operating other services.


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.[19][100]

Bradford Interchange-London Euston

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.[101][102][103] The proposal was dropped due Virgin Trains' Moderation of Competition protection preventing any other operators from operating on the West Coast Main Line.[104]

Lincoln-London King's Cross

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.[105]

Blackpool North to London Euston

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.[106][107] 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.[108]

Hartford-London Euston

There would have been a daily service between Hartford and Euston calling at Lichfield Trent Valley, Tamworth and Nuneaton, but it was rejected by the Office Rail of Regulation.


Grand Central's fleet is maintained at Heaton and Crofton depots. Since the Arriva takeover, heavy maintenance on the High Speed Trains has been performed at Arriva TrainCare, Crewe,[109]


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