Alstom, the French OEM best known for manufacturing rolling stock, says it will start its first passenger rail service in the UK next year. 

The multinational will work with consultancy SLC Rail to form an open access rail operation from London to Wrexham in North Wales, known as Wrexham, Shropshire and Midlands Railway (WSMR).

The service would provide a direct passenger rail link between London and North Wales, a journey that currently requires a change of service and train operating company. 

“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 for UK and Ireland at Alstom.

The service proposed would comprise 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.

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WSMR route map. Credit: Alstom/ WSMR

SLC Rail’s managing director emphasised the impact of increased competition on UK railways for passengers. 

“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,” Ian Walters said.

“Our proposal will support sustainable housing growth, nurture communities, and unite business, leisure, and commerce along the corridor.”

The service would reintroduce passenger rail to the Sutton Park line north of Birmingham, currently only used by freight rail. Not only would this reduce congestion in the centre of England’s second city, it would also enable direct rail access between currently underserved communities. 

WSMR intends to operate outside of the UK government’s rail franchise system as an open access rail operator, and said it had submitted a formal application to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to operate. 

“Details regarding WSMR’s fleet, brand and service provision will be announced at a later date,” Alstom added in a statement. 

UK Rail Minister Huw Merriman backed the plans.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Following suit

The Alstom announcement comes a week after the ORR approved an open access operator to start a new service from London to Scotland. Grand Union Trains will run four return trains to Stirling from London Euston, stopping at Milton Keynes Central, Nuneaton, Crewe, Preston, Carlisle, Lockerbie, Motherwell, Whifflet, Greenfaulds and Larbert.

“ORR found that the proposed services would increase choice for passengers, significantly increasing direct journey opportunities to and from London and central and southern Scotland, while making use of existing capacity on the network,” the regulatory body said in a statement.