Posted 14th March 2024 | 5 Comments

Alstom unveils open access plan for Wrexham

Alstom has published proposals to run a new open access service between London, Shropshire and Wrexham, echoing the former Wrexham and Shropshire operation which closed in January 2011.

Alstom, which is one of the world’s major builders of rolling stock, has formed a partnership with SLC Rail and is submitting a formal application to the Office of Rail and Road today.

Wrexham, Shropshire and Midlands Railway services would start from Wrexham General and call at Gobowen, Shrewsbury, Telford Central, Wolverhampton, Darlaston, Walsall, Coleshill Parkway, Nuneaton, Milton Keynes Central and London Euston. The trains would avoid central Birmingham by using the freight line through Sutton Park between Wolverhampton and Water Orton.

If it went ahead, WSMR would be the second open access operator on the West Coast Main Line, because it is only a week since the ORR approved an application from Grand Union Trains to run four trains a day between London Euston and Stirling, starting next year.

The Government has made it clear that it is in favour of open access. Rail minister Huw Merriman said: ‘These exciting proposals could see better connections for communities across North Wales and the Midlands, including direct services to London from Shrewsbury, Telford and Wrexham. Competition delivers choice for passengers and drives up standards, which is why we continue to work with industry to help make the most of open access rail.’

Like Grand Union, WSMR could be launched next year. It is proposing to run five trains a day on Mondays to Saturdays, and four on Sundays. Alstom said the new company would serve a catchment area of about 1.5 million people outside London and employ about 50 people.

So far Alstom has not revealed what rolling stock could be used, but the Sutton Park route to Wolverhampton is not electrified, although that does not rule out bi-mode trains, which would also need to use a non-electric mode between Wolverhampton and Wrexham.

Alstom’s managing director for the UK and Ireland Nick Crossfield said: ‘As the country’s leading supplier of rolling stock and train services, it makes perfect sense that we now move into operating our own fleet to serve passengers directly. Having been part of the fabric of UK rail for two centuries, we’re excited to enter this new era as an open access operator.

‘Alstom is also committed to embedding sustainability into every element of our organisation, and WSMR will help drive a modal shift from road to rail by offering a greener alternative for travellers across England and Wales.’

SLC Rail managing director Ian Walters added: ‘From the Welsh borders to the Midlands, our routes will forge new connections, linking overlooked regions of England and Wales with direct services to and from London. Passengers will benefit from more competitive fares and new technology to simplify ticket purchasing for our new services. Delighting the customer will be at the forefront of what we do; we want WSMR passengers to experience a new excellence in customer service onboard our intercity trains.

‘Our proposal will support sustainable housing growth, nurture communities, and unite business, leisure, and commerce along the corridor. This will enhance economies and bring a positive impact to both communities and the environment – and we can’t wait to get started.’

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • david C smith, Bletchley

    Yes, well, I would agree that we need both public and private enterprise in the railway, but not with competition between the two. If we follow the Sectorisation of late BR, then one such as InterCity would probably fare best running as a series of competing private businesses, whilst a version of Network Southeast makes best sense as a public sector monopoly (Exeter is no way in the South East !). But the current means of co-existence between what were franchise holders and Open Access operators is a bit "dodgy", with any competition being on a basis of unequal , non - level" playing fields".

    [It is going to get more dodgy soon. See the forthcoming April print edition of Railnews (RN326, published 11 April) for a full analysis--Ed.]

  • Steve Alston, Crewe

    Walsall, Nuneaton, Milton Keynes? Long established existing markets. All the other barely used stations are red herrings. Another state-authorised Orcats raid by yet another version of 'Klepto Lumo'.

    Let's say I'm running SteveRail. Steve Rail starts at Clifton, then Manchester Piccadilly, Denton, Stockport, Stoke on Trent, Barlaston and Stafford to London. You know, it's a totally new market, and we might get the odd goat from Barlaston... but it's not for nicking the Avanti tickets, honest!

    Like Lumo's "ooh but Morpeth" nonsense, this is yet another not-a-new-market vulture operator circling above trying to pick off money which belongs in the public-purse of the DfT and not spent on the likes of FirstGroup shareholders fleet of yachts.

  • david C smith, Bletchley

    An interesting development. It seems a basic problem with this and the previous attempt ( WSMR) is how to avoid the congested Birmingham New Street station. If only a connection could be installed at Smethwick Galton Bridge to allow trains from Wolverhampton to access Snow Hill station directly , not only making it feasible to run this new proposal via the ex- GWR route to London ( Marylebone or Paddington ). but also alleviating the congestion at New Street more generally, Snow Hill currently has , I understand plenty of spare capacity.

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    Best of luck to WSMR. Let's see if it's business plan can succeed where others have failed. However a few caveats.

    How much will the operators revenue be generated from it's own fares rather than abstracting from other operators from the common industry fare pot. Using the airline industry comparison Easyjet & Ryanair generate their revenue stream from there own earnins rather than pool fares in a common pot.

    Current transport ministers have made clear their admiration for further open access operators. Given that when it was awarded the franchise Avanti's contract included Shrewsbury & Wrexham services it is disappointing that it's limited Shrewsbury offer is being allowed to be discontinued later this year. This mirrors what happened with Intercity West Coast in the 1990's when cost cutting saw marginal fringe services withdrawn to save costs. Were the Shrewsbury services given a fair chance to recover post covid? I fear too that Avanti's limited Wrexham service will be next. In recent months it has become increasingly unreliable. Also like the limited Shrewsbury service it takes carries the extra cost of unrenumerative empty stock movements for at minimal marginal gain.

  • John Faragher, Wrexham

    Great news if it comes off. However, the service also needs to stop at Ruabon too. Also would it not make more sense to start/end at Chester?