Grand Central extends suspension as MPs raise fears for future of Hull Trains


Britain’s two open access train operators continue to face significant impacts from coronavirus.

This week Grand Central announced it is to extend the suspension of all operations until the end of June. Meanwhile, Hull MPs have warned that Hull Trains could go out of business without some form of financial support from the government.

Grand Central operates services from London King’s Cross to Sunderland and West Yorkshire. A new service linking Blackpool with London Euston via the West Coast Main Line had been due to get underway this month.

In a statement the company said that while it had operated a reduced service until April 3, this came with all the costs of running a train service but with negligible ticket sales and no government financial support.

“This situation was not sustainable and, following several days of discussion with the Department for Transport, Grand Central suspended all services, for an initial two months,” Grand Central said.

“The safety of our staff and passengers is essential, and social distancing rules means we can’t yet welcome the number of customers needed to run our service sustainably. This means that we will be extending our existing suspension of train services throughout June, but we remain committed to returning later in the summer.”

While a small number of staff remain in post, the majority of Grand Central’s employees have been placed on the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Meanwhile, three Hull MPs have written to transport secretary Grant Shapps saying Hull Trains “simply cannot restart without the support that the government has given to others in the rail industry”.

The open access operator suspended services between Hull and London King’s Cross on March 30 after passenger numbers nosedived as the UK went into lockdown.

MPs Diana Johnson, Karl Turner and Emma Hardy say that while Transport for London has been offered a significant billion pound bailout by the government, Hull Trains faces “the genuine prospect of going out of business permanently”.

“It would mean the loss of 130 local jobs at a time when we face the prospect of the deepest recession for decades,” they add, as well as sending an “unfortunate” message about the government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.

In a statement Louise Cheeseman, Hull Trains managing director, said: “The railway network and is partners have been working with the government throughout lockdown to prepare for a safe and phased increase in rail services.”

She said they continued to assess the situation “based on advice from the government and – when we are in a position to resume services – will implement all necessary precautions for the safety of our crew and passengers to start running trains as soon as we can.”

The Department of Transport said they had been “engaging extensively” with Hull Trains and parent company FirstGroup “who have access to a range of measures provided by government to support businesses across the economy”.

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