CrossCountry wins new contract and proposes historic Edinburgh-Cardiff train
The UK government’s Department for Transport (DfT) has granted CrossCountry, an arm of the Arriva Group, a new contract to continue operating its extensive long-distance and inter-regional services throughout Great Britain. The renewed contract encompasses a series of enhancements, most notably an extensive refurbishment of its diesel multiple unit fleet – the first such refurbishment for twenty years.
As part of its new contract, the UK passenger train operators CrossCountry, have stated their intention to introduce a direct Edinburgh – Cardiff service, linking the two capital cities for the first time. However the service is not expected to run until late in 2024. The operator recently retired its ageing “Intercity 125” fleet – the trains originally introduced by British Railways in the 1970s under the designation HST – or High Speed Train. Although past their prime, the loco-hauled push-pull units offered a high capacity to the significant overcrowding on the CrossCountry network, and the apparent reluctance of the UK government to sanction any further investment in a larger fleet for the operator.
Fleet overhaul and cascaded units
There will be changes at CrossCountry, after the awarding of a new contract from the DfT. Many travellers with the network will say it is not before time. However, the prospect of greatly increased capacity still seems a long way off. CrossCountry serves eight of the ten most populous cities in the UK – only missing out London and Belfast. The England, Scotland and Wales network is a victim of its own popularity, with many services loaded beyond capacity and passenger satisfaction consequently suppressed.
The new contract will all the mainstay diesel multiple units – the Voyager and Turbostar fleet, to be overhauled for the first time in over two decades. The overhaul will encompass the installation of CCTV, automatic passenger counting equipment, and new interior fittings. The operator is also expected to take further examples of the Voyager long-distance DMUs, cascaded from another operator on the West Coast Main Line. It is not clear if passengers will find the underfloor powered units an adequate replacement for the much loved HST locomotive-hauled sets.
Scotland and Wales to get direct service
Timetable improvements will be implemented, building upon the company’s changes in May 2023. “This is great news for our customers and stakeholders”, said Tom Joyner, Managing Director of CrossCountry, responding to the contract award, which runs until 2028. “[It] recognises the importance of our continuing to deliver long-distance business and leisure services across England, Scotland, and Wales.” Those services have continued to growing popularity, which has left CrossCountry severely constrained for passenger carrying capacity. Despite this obvious shortcoming, the UK government has displayed reluctance to sanction further investments in expanding the fleet.
A particularly noteworthy aspect of this development is the introduction of a daily direct service between Cardiff and Edinburgh. This marks the first time CrossCountry will provide a direct link between the capitals of Scotland and Wales, a milestone achievement for the operator and for the UK network as a whole. It would take a thorough examination of timetable records to find a precedent for the proposed service, which is still over a year away from commencement. The 420-mile (672 kilometre) journey will traverse all three countries of Great Britain, and will spend most of its route length traversing England.