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Independent rail firm bids to launch as rival to Great Western on the mainline from south Wales to London

By Robert Harries

An independent rail firm is hoping to launch a rival train service in Wales which they say will slash journey times between Carmarthen and London. Grand Union Trains is making a fresh bid to introduce an initial service in both directions between Cardiff and London on the existing Great Western line.

The company believes the move will “create passenger choice" and increase the number of trains available, with the hope that the service can be extended west in south Wales towards Carmarthen. You can get the latest WalesOnline newsletters e-mailed to you directly for free by signing up here.

The plans will also see the creation of a new station at Felindre, near the M4, and bypass Swansea train station altogether, cutting travel time for those travelling to or from Carmarthen and Llanelli, while the new station will also be home to a park and ride facility for around 500 vehicles.

Read more: Major safety issues found on one of Wales' most dangerous roads

The company wants to start the Cardiff to London service as early as May next year, before extending it to include Llanelli and Carmarthen (where the service will terminate) in time for May 2025. A spokesman for Grand Union Trains said: “As our entry into the UK rail market, we are proposing to initially establish a service in both directions along the Cardiff to London route on the Great Western Main Line.

"This service will create passenger choice where there is currently none, increase service frequency and open up new journey opportunities, providing improved connectivity for south Wales. The initial service is planned to start in 2023 with calling points of Cardiff Central, Newport, Severn Tunnel Junction and Bristol Parkway, then express to London Paddington.

"It will also stop at Cardiff Parkway when it opens. Investment in Severn Tunnel Junction station is also planned to provide much improved passenger facilities and to allow direct access from the adjacent M4 motorway. When new build bi-mode trains are delivered, services will extend beyond Cardiff to Carmarthen calling only at Felindre (new station), Llanelli and Carmarthen.”

The company has said it could be ready to launch its service as early as next year (Grand Union Trains)

According to Trainline, there are approximately 37 train services a day between Cardiff and London operated by Great Western Railway, with an average journey time of two hours and 19 minutes. There is only one direct train between Carmarthen and London each day, with an average journey time of four hours and eight minutes.

Grand Union Trains has said it will be able to cut journey times by 20 minutes by not going into the centre of Swansea. The company, which hopes to create around 135 jobs, claims it is different to other rail operators, with a spokesman adding: “The current system of running railways in the UK needs to change - the standard, long running franchise model is no longer delivering for rail-users or taxpayers. Because Grand Union is independently owned and relies on ticket sales to operate, it will do things differently, continuously seeking ways to improve and innovate to serve the needs of its customers.

“We will drive value for money for passengers and taxpayers by providing more choice for rail-users, as well as providing a more personal, customer-focussed train service, responsive to passengers on safety, price transparency, improved connectivity and the whole journey experience. We will strive to set new standards for others to follow, helping to drive up the quality for rail services in the UK.”

Grand Union Trains has previously attempted to introduce a rail service to offer an alternative to Great Western Railway, but an application was rejected by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) last March because of risks that it could have cost millions to the UK Department for Transport. A spokesman for ORR said at the time: "After careful consideration we have decided not to approve Grand Union Trains’ application. At this time, and taking account of the pandemic’s impact on railway finances, we consider the passenger benefits would not outweigh the significant negative impact on public funds that this might have.”

However, Grand Union Trains vowed to fight the decision and have now shared a new proposal with the industry. Once a consultation period has concluded in early June the company is expected to formally submit the new application to ORR in the hope that its service from Cardiff to London could begin operating in 2023. A spokesman for ORR said: “We have not yet received an application for new services by Grand Union Trains. We are aware the company is consulting with the industry and when we receive Grand Union Trains’ application we will review it in line with our usual criteria.”

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Dive Deeper:
Major changes to the UK’s rail timetables have taken effect
Frst day of the upgraded timetable began poorly for Avanti West Coast: the first three departures from London Euston – to…
Bumpy ride: rail trail projects making ‘itty-bitty’ progress in rural NSW
Cycling and heritage trails could boost tourism and local jobs, but they face planning and funding roadblocks
Lumo train went 50mph over the speed limit, say investigators
Train did not derail but passengers were hurt as it lurched sideways
South Wales Metro project on track to come in over budget
Transport for Wales said the project's originally £734m budget was being hit by inflation and material supply issues
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
The latest death and in memoriam notices in Carmarthenshire as families remember loved ones
Our condolences go out to their families and friends
Could HS2 make it to Wales as rail chiefs renew calls to electrify line?
The high speed rail service is currently not set to enter Wales despite the project being classed as an England…
Get all your news in one place