New firm to run direct trains from London to Carmarthen and Stirling

Four train seats face each other with no table in-between
A concept drawing of the interior of the new trains - Grand Union

A new train firm is set to launch services from London to Carmarthen and Stirling, taking on traditional rail companies that have been hit by strikes.

Grand Union Trains plans to run direct services between the capital and the two regional cities in a bid to increase competition.

Direct services to the Welsh and Scottish destinations from London are currently offered by GWR and LNER respectively.

Strikes have battered all of the UK’s major train companies as members of the Aslef trade union, which represents train drivers, staged a series of walkouts over pay.

Union members say they have not had a pay rise for five years, while the Government says they have rejected a deal that would take average salaries up to £65,000 for a four-day week.

Each strike typically affects 16 of the country’s 20 main train companies, causing cancellations and disruption to millions of travellers.

Rail minister Huw Merriman said that so-called “open access” services from companies such as Grand Union, Lumo and Hull Trains “give more choice to customers” and do not “involve any direct taxpayer subsidies”.

A concept drawing of a railway engine in red with a Welsh flag
How one of the new engines might look in its new livery - Grand Union

“There’s no industrial action on open access operators, perhaps because it’s a fresher way of working with the workforce rather than on an old rulebook basis,” said the minister.

Ian Yeowart, Grand Union’s managing director, said open access train operators bring “significant benefits” to the railways.

“It’s not only good for passengers – as whether [the operators] survive depends on how good they are and what their customers think – but there are no handouts from the Government,” he said.

“Like every other business, if people don’t like it and don’t come, it won’t survive.”

Most of Britain’s trains are run by Government-controlled franchises, where private companies are paid fees to run passenger trains.

Services run by the likes of GWR and LNER, Grand Union’s rivals, are controlled by officials through tightly-specified contracts that let the Government decide how trains are run.

In return for officials handing them a virtual monopoly over their services, franchised train companies are allowed to make a profit of up to two per cent of their revenues.

A Scottish saltire flag is seen on a diesel train engine
A concept drawing for the livery of the new train - Grand Union

Senior rail industry sources have told The Telegraph that they cannot hand pay rises to unionised drivers and stave off future strikes because the money to do so is controlled by the Government.

York-based Grand Union Trains is understood to have already struck a deal with the Aslef train drivers’ union.

Aslef boss Mick Whelan has called on ministers to meet him and arrange a new pay deal to bring the ongoing strikes to an end.

The Department for Transport has confirmed that Mr Merriman will be meeting Mr Whelan in the near future – but only for limited talks about a single train company, West Coast operator Avanti.

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