Welcome to Wrexham says new operator Alstom

The attractive centre of the North Wales town of Wrexham is soon to see a new direct service to London Image Beth Cole WikiCommons

Railway engineering firm Alstom plans to run new direct train services between North Wales, Shropshire, the English Midlands and London. The announcement has taken most parties by surprise. As the country’s foremost supplier of new trains and train services, and a leading signalling and infrastructure provider, Alstom will operate its own rail service in the UK for the first time.

Alstom is partnering with Birmingham headquartered SLC Rail to form a new open-access rail operation, registered as Wrexham, Shropshire and Midlands Railway (WSMR). The proposed service echoes an earlier open access operation, which last ran over a decade ago. Open access varies from the existing franchised operations in that such services do not attract any government support. Formal application has been submitted to UK regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). Passenger services are proposed to operate from next year (2025).

Extensive experience along the route

A second attempt to provide an open access service between Wrexham and London has been launched by a partnership including a world-famous railway engineering corporation, and a slightly more discretely known Birmingham consultancy. The former has an enviable reputation for providing railway hardware, whilst the latter’s soft-skills have backed several successful railway ambitions.

Alstom, who describe themselves as a global leader in smart and sustainable mobility, plan to operate the new passenger rail service between Wrexham in North Wales, through Shropshire and the West Midlands, to London Euston. SLC Rail is providing partnership consultation to the proposed service. SLC already has extensive relative experience along the proposed route. The chosen name for the operation largely reflects their geographical areas of operations: Wrexham, Shropshire and Midlands Railway (WSMR).

Hollywood stars and Government ministers

Wrexham was the origin of a former open access operator, with a similar name and ambitions. The Arriva-backed Wrexham and Shropshire ran for just under three years until January 2011. Conditions in the wider economy were generally agreed to be behind that operation’s demise. Since then, fortunes have changed for Wrexham. New freight and passenger services are planned, the local economy is improving, and the North Wales town has been put on the world stage and screens by the acquisition of the local football team by the Hollywood actors and entrepreneurs Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds. Whether that global notoriety can contribute to making this new rail service a match winner too, remains to be seen.

The A Lister stars from the WSMR team at Alstom

The proposals have been met with enthusiasm from government circles. “These exciting proposals could see better connections for communities across North Wales and the Midlands, including direct services to London from Shrewsbury, Telford and Wrexham,” said Huw Merriman, the UK Rail Minister.“Competition delivers choice for passengers and drives up standards, which is why we continue to work with industry to help make the most of open access rail.”

Routing has been a critical consideration

WSMR intends to offer passengers a five trains per day service (four on Sundays) between Wrexham and Gobowen in Wales; then the English destinations of Shrewsbury, Telford Central, Wolverhampton, Darlaston, Walsall, Coleshill Parkway (on the eastern edge of Birmingham), Nuneaton, Milton Keynes and London Euston. Trains will call at Darlaston once its new station opens. Alstom chose to emphasise that journey times between Shrewsbury and Walsall will be dramatically reduced from the current alternative. Although that particular flow would hardly be the foremost factor in making the venture successful, faster connections (and brand new connections) are the main selling point.

Diagram of the WSMR route as proposed by Alstom

Trains will use the West Coast Main Line and Euston Station in London. WCML paths have been identified despite the heavy existing timetable. Notably, the previous open access operator ran trains into the much smaller London Marylebone Station. In the West Midlands, WSMR trains will avoid Birmingham, one of the most complex and congested parts of the British rail network. Trains will route via the Sutton Park line, an alignment across the north east of Birmingham, which is currently only used for freight services. The company say this will enable Wolverhampton and Walsall to be connected to Nuneaton directly for the first time, offering new travel options across the West Midlands, North Warwickshire and beyond.

Support sustainable growth along the corridor

WSMR could begin as early as next year (2025) with the potential to create around 50 new jobs, mostly based in North Wales and the Midlands. “As the country’s leading supplier of rolling stock and train services, it makes perfect sense that we now move into operating our own fleet to serve passengers directly”, said Nick Crossfield, Managing Director UK and Ireland at Alstom. “WSMR will help drive a modal shift from road to rail by offering a greener alternative for travellers across England and Wales.”

The partnership says their routes will forge new connections, linking overlooked regions of England and Wales with direct services to and from London. “Passengers will benefit from more competitive fares and new technology to simplify ticket purchasing for our new services”, said Ian Walters, Managing Director at Midlands-based SLC Rail. “Our proposal will support sustainable housing growth, nurture communities, and unite business, leisure, and commerce along the corridor. This will enhance economies and bring a positive impact to both communities and the environment.”

Further reading:

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.