10 October 2008

Platinum Trains

We're both very interested in a new open-access rail operator whose recently emerged on the scene, lodging an application with the ORR last month to operate non-stop Anglo-Scottish trains using the East Coast Main Line (ECML).

Platinum Trains is headed by a former Northern Rail project manager called Gary Jones. He has over 17 years experience in the rail industry and has seen a way to improve journey times between London-Edinburgh that is unique to a new operator rather than an existing company. By running non-stop between the two points, he says that almost 20 minutes can be saved on end-to-end journey times.

Would National Express East Coast (NXEC) consider such journeys? Probably not as they make most of their money by running London-Edinburgh services that call at many stations en route, providing local services themselves, as well as the important London-Tyneside rail link. While Hull Trains and Grand Central could consider the type of service proposed by Platinum, their localities are not best suited to this particular route.

Gary Jones has identified paths during Network Rail's recent East Coast capacity study that allow travel between Edinburgh Waverley and London King's Cross to total 4 hours and 3 minutes. From December 2009, he's applied to the ORR for two return services to operate between Aberdeen-Dundee-Edinburgh-London. Platinum's plan is based on the growing market share the rail industry has for Anglo-Scottish journeys and to do so without aggravating its competitors - namely NXEC - by stealing its customers. Platinum Trains hopes that operating non-stop along the ECML and only accepting tickets specifically booked for its services will dissuade NXEC from retaliation.

This could lead to problems with its tickets not being valid on other operators' services should a Platinum train fail. Only recently Grand Central had to terminate one of its services at York as HSTs are not permitted to travel south of this point on the ECML with fewer than 5 carriages between the two units and this particular HST was hauling only 4. As the service approached York, the conductor issued standard open singles to all passengers on board - this fare is £103 (calculated using the Fares Manual CD) - as NXEC no longer accept Grand Central tickets for when their services fail. A standard open single from Edinburgh-London is £126, from Dundee it'll set you back £141.50 and from Aberdeen it's an impressive £148.

The on-board facilities offered by Platinum Trains seem very impressive though. All passengers would be guaranteed a booked seat; the back of the seat in front would have a screen built into it so that Internet browsing is made easier as well as playing live TV; passengers could also use this facility to play their own CDs or DVDs - and all this as standard, fitted initially, to Class 180 Adelantes!

But compare this with the 1 hour 30 minute Aberdeen-London flight time and the fact that currently the 350,000-strong Aberdeen & Dundee catchment area has only 3 direct London trains per day, will the proposed 6 hour 25 minute journey time from here tempt those from the air onto the train - especially since Platinum's trains wont be calling at Newcastle, Doncaster etc to make up the profit margin.

Fascinating times though, especially since the ECML passes through the LEYTR back garden!

Platinum Trains' application to the ORR can be viewed here.
Their draft Track Access Contract can be viewed here.