The sudden abandonment of the Wrexham & Shropshire train service, started less than three years ago, is another nail in the coffin for the idea that open access has any relevance to today’s rail network. It leaves just Grand Central and Hull Trains, both on the East Coast and little likelihood of any new arrivals in the near future.
Wrexham & Shropshire was a great little service, a kind of throwback to the best of British Rail but it never made any money and was hampered by the ridiculous constraints such as not being allowed to offer a full service at Wolverhampton or stop at Coventry. The whole paraphernalia of the open access rules actually mitigates against their very purpose of stimulating innovation. Other entrants are bound to be deterred by what happened to Wrexham & Shropshire.
I originally wrote here that ‘its fate was sealed once it ended up, along with Chiltern in the hands of Deutsche Bahn as effectively the German railway was competing against itself, especially as it now also owns Arriva which runs CrossCountry and Wales’. In fact, this has been pointed out to me as a mistake. Chiltern’s parent company – originally Laing and now DB – always had a fifty per cent stake in the operation and invested much of the required set up costs. Rather, the problem was that, as many people predicted, there was no money in the service and it lost £2.8m in the last financial year. It was not helped, of course, by the opposition of Virgin and the regulator’s insistence in limiting its stops.
Nevertheless, the way it has been announced – or rather the way the news leaked out – was shocking. Apparently staff had been told last night and then this morning started telling passengers who passed it on to BBC Radio Shropshire. Does DB not realise that in these days of 24/7 news, you have to be more open? The poor passengers left standing on the intermediate stations while the train went through without a crew and therefore not picking anyone up will not have been impressed with DB’s behaviour. It gave Virgin a field day in announcing that it would rescue the ‘stranded’ passengers, though that of course is a better response than refusing to honour their tickets!