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LONDON IN 3 HOURS; ON THE RIGHT TRACK AT LAST.

Byline: HENRYK ZIENTEK

RAIL passengers from Huddersfield could hit London within three hours - without changing trains. New plans to provide the first direct rail links between Huddersfield and the capital have been unveiled which could run in under five years. A new company, Alliance Rail, has submitted proposals which would give Huddersfield two direct routes to the capital. One, via Sheffield, would see a journey time of 3hrs to King's Cross and the other, via Crewe, with a journey time of 2hrs 40mins to Euston.

Businessman Ian Yeowart, the man behind the scheme, said: "Huddersfield is the last big town in Yorkshire without a direct service to London and I have always had ambitions to remedy that." Alliance Rail wants to run so-called "open access" services on the East Coast and West Coast main lines in competition with existing franchise holders. One planwould see trains run into Huddersfield on the Penistone Line from Sheffield. If its plans are approved by the Office of Rail Regulation, the company will begin the process of buying pounds 250m of new trains and recruiting employees for a purpose-built maintenance depot and offices.

The company headed by Mr Yeowart, a Wetherby-based rail industry veteran, wants to run the trains under the GNER and GNWR banners. Mr Yeowart said: "People in Huddersfield will have two choices under our proposals. "We estimate that the journey from Huddersfield to King's Cross by GNER will be three hours - given the problems of the single track between Sheffield and Huddersfield. "The journey time from Huddersfield to Euston on theWest Coast route will be about 20 minutes quicker because we will have the same type of trains used by Virgin.

"Huddersfield is the last big town in Yorkshire without a direct service to London and I have always had ambitions to remedy that." He added: "There is a huge amount of investment behind this proposal, but if the regulator doesn't like it, we won't see it happen." If successful, the move would see the return of the GNER name to UK railways two years after it disappeared. US conglomerate Sea Containers ran the East Coast franchise under the GNER name, but went bankrupt in 2006 and was stripped of the franchise. Under the GNER name, Alliance Rail plans four new services between King's Cross,

Sheffield and Huddersfield using part of the scenic East Coast main line. It would also run four trains to Grimsby and Cleethorpes and an "inter-city" service between Hull and Liverpool. Sister company GNWR would run trains between Euston, Huddersfield and Leeds as well as services to Halifax and Bradford and a train to Carlisle via Barrow and the Cumbrian coast. GNER would be pitted against whoever emerges as franchise holder on the East Coast after beleaguered National Express hands it back to the Government by the end of the year. GNWR services would vie with West Coast franchise holder Virgin. Mr Yeowart said: "There are many large and important locations that are poorly served or not served at all." Mr Yeowart has already founded the Grand Central railway under open access agreements, which runs services between London and Sunderland. He left the business earlier this year, but remains a shareholder.

Earlier this year, Grand Central was given the go-ahead by the ORR to run a direct rail service linking Bradford and King's Cross calling at Halifax, Brighouse, Wakefield, Pontefract and Doncaster. The last of the three 125mph Class 180 high speed trains which will run the service are due to join Grand Central's fleet in early 2010 when test running and crew training for the new service is also set to start. Mr Yeowart said his involvement with Grand Central meant he had "positive history" negotiating open access services - bringing additional capacity to the existing rail network. And he said the move was timely given concerns about the environment.

"There is a very big 'green' agenda," said Mr Yeowart. The motorways are congested and while there are plans for new high speed rail links, we don't have pounds 63bn to spend on that at the moment. Neither does the country.What we can do is use what's there to its best capacity." Although Alliance's backers are yet to be revealed, the company said it plans to spend about pounds 250m on brand new rolling stock and a further pounds 20m on stations if the proposal gets approval. The new company estimates it would generate revenues of about pounds 50m a year. But the eventual launch of GNER and GNWR is still some way off. The regulator could take up to 18 months to make a decision. If the plan is approved, it could be three more years before the services begin.

CAPTION(S):

SPEEDY SERVICE: An image of the proposed GNWR trains which Alliance Rail wants to run between Huddersfield and London BITION: Ian Yeowart
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Sep 25, 2009
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