škoda 2024

WSMR - a new open access passenger service in the UK

posted on 17th Mar 2024 11:21

On 14 March 2024, Alstom announced that it plans to operate a new passenger rail service across England and Wales. Working in partnership with consultancy SLC Rail, the open access operation will be known as Wrexham, Shropshire and Midlands Railway (WSMR): "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."

WSMR is seeking to introduce direct connectivity to and from North Wales, Shropshire, the Midlands and London that doesn’t exist today, linking growing communities and businesses, and making rail travel more convenient, enjoyable and affordable. WSMR will offer passengers in Wrexham, Gobowen, Shrewsbury, Walsall and Coleshill a direct link with the capital, alongside Darlaston once its new station opens. Meanwhile, journey times between Shrewsbury and Walsall will be dramatically reduced from the current alternative.

Huw Merriman, Rail Minister, sasi: “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. 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.” It is anticipated that WSMR services could begin as early as 2025 and it is expected the new operation will create around 50 new jobs, with roles 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. Having been part of the fabric of UK rail for two centuries, we’re excited to enter this new era as an open access operator,” said Nick Crossfield, Managing Director UK and Ireland at Alstom.

The proposal envisages a service of five trains per day in each direction Monday to Saturday, with four travelling both ways on Sundays. Trains will stop at Gobowen, Shrewsbury, Telford Central, Wolverhampton, Darlaston, Walsall, Coleshill Parkway, Nuneaton and Milton Keynes on their journey between Wrexham General and London Euston. WSMR estimates it would serve a core catchment area of around 1.5 million people outside London, a population which is set to grow by 16 % over the next decade.

“From the Welsh borders to the Midlands, our 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. Delighting the customer will be at the forefront of what we do; we want WSMR passengers to experience a new excellence in customer service onboard our intercity trains,” said Ian Walters, Managing Director at Midlands-based SLC Rail. 

In the West Midlands, WSMR trains will avoid Birmingham - one of the most complex and congested parts of the British rail network - by utilising the Sutton Park line, which is currently only used for freight services. This would enable Wolverhampton and Walsall to serve Nuneaton directly for the first time, offering new travel options across the West Midlands, North Warwickshire and beyond.

As an open access operator, WSMR is a wholly commercial operation, which remains separate from the Government's franchised rail operations. WSMR submitted a formal application to add its services to the UK network to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) on 14 March. Details regarding WSMR’s fleet, brand and service provision will be announced at a later date.

A bit of history

It should be remembered that between April 2008 and January 2011 an open access operator Wrexham & Shropshire (legally Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway Company Limited) provided passenger services between Wrexham and London Marylebone, using locomotive-hauled rakes of Mark 3 cars, incorporating Driving Van Trailers (DVTs) and Class 67 diesel locomotives.

We asked Alstom:

How is Alstom involved in this particular activity? Will it have a stake in WSMR? What percentage?
Alstom‘s answer: „Yes, Alstom is the majority stakeholder of WSMR in a joint venture with SLC Rail.“

What does Alstom expect from this activity? The initial Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway was even then only a small open access operator - the new WSMR will also now only account for a small traffic compared to other operators. So what will this bring for Alstom in terms of its turnover? 
„As the country’s foremost supplier of new trains and train services, it makes perfect sense that Alstom takes the next step in operating them for passengers - and is very much part of our growth strategy. With a global reputation for expertise in maintaining and optimising rail vehicles, this unique position allows for efficient management of diverse fleets and cost-effective maintenance.“

Thus will Alstom be active not only as a future supplier of trains for WSMR and an ECM, but also as a true operator? Is Alstom aware that as an OA operator it will be in fact a competitor for its customers, which are using Alstom-built trains? (This same thing happened Siemens in the past with its Dispolok pool.)
„Alstom will not be in competition with our current customers, as the service will compliment existing services in the UK - the route benefits an underrepresented market across England and Wales currently. Our aim is to deliver new rail travel options to customers that provide quicker and more direct connectivity.
Most of the skills required to establish an open access operator already exist within the Alstom workforce and, as a result, it is a key pillar of the growth strategy within the company’s UK Services division. We will be responsible for all aspects of running a railway passenger service in partnership with SLC Rail.“

Will Alstom supply any new DMUs? Because at earlier time Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway was running with locomotive and old coaches.
„Once WSMR’s application has been approved by the ORR, we will be able to reveal more details of our expected service patterns. More details regarding fleet, customer experience, and the look and feel of our brand will be released in due course, alongside information such as where the headquarters will be established and where our trains will be maintained from. It’s unlikely that we’ll have a new fleet at launch, but something that we will consider once the service is up and running.“

Is there another case in the world where Alstom is involved in some open access operator?
„Alstom is the only original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to maintain and manually operate trains worldwide, and has been doing so for over 40 years. As a train manufacturer, operator and maintainer, Alstom offers efficient integrated solutions covering the full spectrum of customer needs, for greater system availability and safe operations. With over 50 active train operations and system maintenance projects worldwide Alstom has a solid track record and a satisfied customer base, with a contract renewal rate of over 95 %. In fact, over 2,312 vehicles, or 474 trains, are operated by Alstom worldwide on behalf of other customers.
Alstom is the first and largest private train operator in North America, and provides both operations and maintenance services for various commuter rail systems and airport automated people mover systems across the region. Meanwhile, the Cairo Monorail, designed and built by Alstom in Derby, England, will also be operated and maintained by Alstom once in passenger service. For example, Alstom conducts operations for GO Transit, employing around 600 train crew members and making over 900,000 station stops annually. SunRail, a commuter rail system in the Greater Orlando area, is another service we operate.“

Thanks for your answers. 


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