Map reveals where new rail routes could be introduced across the UK

Map reveals where new rail routes could be introduced across the UK

Plans are in place for new rail routes across the UK (Picture: Grand Union Trains)

More frequent and new rail services could be on the way, as independent operators roll out plans to launch extra trains around the country.

Stirling in Scotland and Carmarthen in Wales could be some of the first places to have direct links to London after proposals from prospective open-access company Grand Union Trains (GUT).

It is one of several operators to give rail travel a boost and offer low fares on already expensive routes.

They are backed by the UK government, which says the rise of open access gives customers more choice and increases passenger numbers.

Rail minister Huw Merriman said: ‘It’s not just a question of us having rail operators compete with each other.

‘There’s an opportunity for rail to take passengers that may otherwise fly or indeed drive.

‘Open access is such a positive.’

A host of new routes are set to be launched if plans go ahead (Picture: Metro.co.uk/Datawrapper)

Mr Merriman added: ‘There’s no industrial action on open-access operators, perhaps because it’s a fresher way of working with the workforce rather than on an old rule book basis.’

During recent rail strikes, companies like Lumo and Grand Central have been able to continue running services due to their separate status.

GUT is also consulting on a possible service between Edinburgh and Cardiff. There is currently no direct route connecting the Scottish and Welsh capitals.

Other would-be open-access operators include Go-Op, which aims to run services between Taunton and both Weston-super-Mare and Swindon, and Wrexham, Shropshire & Midlands Railway, which hopes to create a route between London Euston and Wrexham.

Lumo also plans to extend its route between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh to reach Glasgow, while FirstGroup wants to launch a service between the same London terminus and Sheffield.

What is an open-access rail operator?

Most of the major rail operators in the UK are either owned or paid management fees by the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments.

LNER, Scotrail, CrossCountry, Avanti West Coast and many, many others fall into this category.

But the tracks can also be used by open-access operators, which set their own fares, take full commercial risk, and don’t receive any taxpayer-funded subsidies.

They include companies like Lumo, Grand Central, Heathrow Express, Eurostar and Hull Trains – with several more due to spring up soon.

Proponents say the availability of these other options increases competition which drives down fares.

But critics argue that the companies are simply taking advantage of a ‘false economy’, and it would be better for passengers if the large operators just simplified their timetables.

Grand Central managing director Ian Yeowart said: ‘It’s not only good for passengers – as whether (the operators) survive depends on how good they are and what their customers think – but there are no handouts from the government.

‘Like every other business, if people don’t like it and don’t come, it won’t survive.’

But Gareth Dennis, an engineer who writes about the rail industry, said open-access services should not be permitted in the UK because of the complexity of fitting the trains into already crammed timetables.

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He said: ‘The argument on the Continent for open access operators is that they provide competition, but there’s no meaningful competition on a rail network that’s as saturated as ours.

‘What you need is a simple, repetitive timetable that moves huge numbers of people.’

Mr Dennis argued that the operators could charge lower fares because they use depots that exist for other companies and can recruit staff that had been trained already rather than training their own.

He added: ‘It’s a false economy really.’

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