Virgin Trains’ promised 14 daily trains between London and Harrogate took an important step forward on Thursday after they were granted vital track access.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) announced on May 12 that it had approved Virgin Trains East Coast’s application for services travelling on the East Coast Main Line (ECML).
The services will run between London and Edinburgh and will enable Virgin Trains to deliver their promise of an additional six daily trains between Harrogate and London.
Virgin Trains said it was ‘delighted’ with the ORR’s decision and confirmed that the new services will be introduced from May 2019.
A Virgin Trains spokesperson said: “We are delighted that the ORR have granted us the rights to enable us to fully develop our timetable proposals, including running more direct services to Harrogate from 2019 onwards.
“We have huge plans for the East Coast franchise. These include new Virgin Azuma trains, cutting journey times, expanding the timetable, linking communities and delivering significant premium payments to Government.
“Virgin Trains’ plans for the East Coast are in the best interests of passengers, taxpayers and communities, and we’re pleased that the ORR has recognised that and approved all of our proposals.”
The company first promised a raft of improvements for Harrogate, including additional London services, when it was awarded the ECML contract by the Government in November 2014
However, Virgin Trains revealed in April that the services were at risk as they faced a battle to secure the sufficient paths on the line.
They warned that if the competing ‘open access’ operators were awarded space on the line, it would jeopardise their London promise.
The ORR rejected two applications from the Great North Eastern Railway Company but did approve an application from FirstGroup as well as Virgin Trains.
John Larkinson, ORR’s Director of Railway Markets and Economics said: “These new train services will give passengers more choice on services to Edinburgh and London and provide more frequent trains to towns and cities which are not so well served by rail today
Harrogate Chamber of Commerce, which led a five-year campaign to upgrade the town’s rail services, said they were ‘relieved’ with the ORR’s announcement.
Brian Dunsby, leader of the Harrogate Line Supporters Group and former chief executive of the chamber, said: “These new services with new high speed trains every two hours each way will be of great benefit to Harrogate District’s businesses, residents and visitors for many years to come.”