Open access operator Grand Central has decided not to proceed with plans for a new service linking London with Blackpool.

Had it done so it would have provided competition to Avanti West Coast which currently holds the West Coast Main Line (WCML) rail franchise.

Grand Central had originally intended to start the route this year but this will not now happen. Covid-19 which has seen rail passenger numbers plummet.

It had already acquired the trains for this new service and these already bear Grand Central’s distinctive livery.

Says managing director Richard McClean, “So much effort has been put into these existing plans to launch services between London and Blackpool.

“But the pandemic and its effects on our expansion plans have just proved too big an obstacle.

“Because Grand Central operates under an open access agreement, we receive no financial help and we rely completely on what we generate from ticket sales.

“We will now concentrate on rebuilding our two existing routes [between London, Yorkshire and the Northeast] which returned to service earlier this summer, following lockdown.”

Some readers may be puzzled at this announcement because on Monday the rail industry was saying that 90 per cent of services had returned to normal.

What many people overlook is that last Monday’s announcement was pure PR. It was influenced by the government and was designed to encourage people back to work and children back to school.

It concerned only the TOCs (who pay franchise fees to the government which is now paying their bills) and not the open access firms (who pay no franchise fees and so cannot expect help from the government).