FirstGroup last year won paths on the congested East Coast Main Line to launch it’s own “Open Access” service between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh. Well, it seems the company is pressing ahead, with orders for five Hitachi AT300 trains.
The deal worth £100 million will be for five AT300 electric trains, each five carriages long. The deal is between FirstGroup and Hitachi Rail, with Beacon Rail handling the financing.
The trains will hold up to 400 passengers in a single class configuration (abandoning the traditional first/standard class seating options on long-distance rail services), with plans to include air conditioning, Wi-Fi, power outlets and an onboard trolley catering service.
FirstGroup is hoping to draw domestic air passengers away between London and Edinburgh, as well as stops between Stevenage, Newcastle and Morpeth. According to the company, two-thirds of journeys between the two capitals are made by air.
The company is also promising an average fare of under £25 one-way between the two capitals.
Formal branding of the new route and trains has yet to be decided.
Steve Montgomery, First Rail’s Managing Director, said:
“We’re excited to announce the next step to providing our high-quality low fare service for customers linking London and Edinburgh. There’s a real gap in the market for truly affordable rail travel between the two capitals – our plans show we are serious about competing with low-cost airlines and opening up rail travel on this key route to thousands of new passengers.
“The new trains we are introducing will provide the highest level of comfort and service, whilst being great for the environment and air quality.”
Karen Boswell, Managing Director of Hitachi Rail Europe, said:
“Our Japanese-bullet train inspired fleet will play a vital role in supporting FirstGroup’s exciting new service.
“These trains have been designed to increase the number of seats available whilst harnessing the latest in comfort design to boost passenger experiences.
“Today’s deal extends our long-term relationship with FirstGroup, who already use our pioneering intercity trains in other parts of the country to boost reliability and passenger satisfaction.”
A challenge to air travel? Maybe.
With FirstGroup taking on both LNER (the incumbent publicly owned train operator) and the airlines, this is an interesting play the company to deliver value orientated services – compared with either traditional service, low-cost carriers or traditional carriers (such as British Airways).
With a predicted 4 and a half hour journey between London and Edinburgh, it will offer an attraction for those who need a one-seat ride between the cities, without going through security checks or waiting in terminals for trains.
However, I feel that they may be underestimating the capacity, with five car trains carrying up to 400 people. With paths along the East Coast Main Line a scarce commodity, it would have been interesting to see longer trains (8 or 10 carriages long) to carry more passenger, but also give more space to them too.
The challenge FirstGroup will have is one I’m carefully watching.
Editors Note: FirstGroup was contacted for press images of the train. These images did not arrive at the time of publication.
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