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Shropshire to get new direct rail link to London

By Mark Andrews | Mid Wales | Transport | Published:

Shropshire is to get a new direct rail link to London as part of plans announced by the region’s new inter-city rail operator.

Welsh transport minister Ken Skates and First Rail managing director Steve Montgomery launch the Avanti rail franchise

Avanti West Coast, which took over from Virgin Trains earlier this month, will launch a new direct service between Gobowen and London, coming into effect in December 2022.

The service will also connect to Shrewsbury, providing a third direct service between the county town and the capital, in addition to the twice-daily service launched by Virgin in 2014.

But the details of the route have yet to be confirmed, and it is not known whether Telford and Wellington will also benefit.

The company, a partnership between the First Rail group and Italian operator Trenitalia, also announced it would be investing £350 million in new rolling stock.This will see the existing Super Voyager diesel trains replaced by new ‘bi-mode’ trains which can switch between electric and diesel power.

This would enable them to use electric power between London and Wolverhampton, and then switch to diesel power for the non-electrified stretch through Shropshire.

First Rail managing director Steve Montgomery said the new trains would also feature longer carriages, allowing an increase of up to 60 per cent in seating capacity.

He said the new trains would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent, and allow for a quieter, smoother journey.

Mr Montgomery said the new direct service would bring major benefits to the economy.

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"Our plans for new, greener trains, and for more services and new destinations, will significantly enhance the quality of rail journeys for our customers," he said.

Bigger and cleaner trains are promised

Bigger, cleaner trains, extra services and better wi-fi connections will be among the improvements planned for inter-city rail services in the region over the next three years.

Avanti West Coast announced it would be spending an extra £350 million on rolling stock as it launched its plans for the future.

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Steve Montgomery, managing director of First Rail, said the company would begin phasing out the Super Voyager diesel trains it inherited from Virgin in 2022, when they will be replaced by the new Hitachi AT100 trains.

Unlike the Super Voyagers, which went into service in 2001, the new trains will be able to switch between electric and diesel power, meaning that they will produce zero emissions where the line is electrified.

They can switch to diesel for the stretch through Shropshire, which has no electric supply.

Mr Montgomery said the new trains would include bigger carriages, increasing the capacity of a standard five-car train by 20 per cent, from 250 seats to 300.

But he said trains could be extended to seven cars in areas where demand was high, increasing capacity by 60 per cent to 400.

Mr Montgomery said the new trains would begin to enter service around the spring of 2022, and hoped that they would have completely replaced the Super Voyagers by December that year.

The switch is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent, and carcinogenic particulates by 90 per cent.

Reliable

Mr Montgomery said the company would also be spending £117 million refurbishing the 56 Pendolino electric trains, which the company inherited from Virgin. This work would take place early next year, he said.

The new trains will be built at Hitachi’s work at Newton Aycliffe, supporting 1,000 jobs. Similar trains already operate on the East Coast and Great Western main lines.

They will have a more reliable wi-fi service, wireless charging for electronic devices, as well as plug and USB sockets enabling people to work while on the move.

Mr Montgomery said they would also offer better accessibility for disabled people.

He said the company would also be offering a more generous compensation package for trains which are delayed. Under the new scheme, payments will be made for trains which are delayed by more than 15 minutes, rather than 30 minutes under the present scheme.

Mr Montgomery said a new direct service from London to Gobowen, near Oswestry, would be launched in December 2022, also serving Shrewsbury.

Ken Skates, transport minister for the Welsh Government, welcomed the news, saying it would improve links to future high-speed services.

He said the Welsh government was committed to working with other agencies to ensure good transport connections with the Midlands, Scotland and London.

Ernesto Sicilia, director of Trenitalia UK, said: “We’re honoured to begin operating rail services between Wales and England.

“Avanti represents our progressive and innovative values of quality, dynamism and innovation.”

Avanti took over the franchise on December 8, after 22 years of Virgin operating inter-city services along the line.

Virgin was unable to renew the franchise after its partner Stagecoach was banned by the Department For Transport from tendering for the contract due to a row over pensions.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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