Bid to connect Cumbria to London with pioneering new trains

The Westmorland Gazette: DUAL FUEL: A train similar to the ones Alliance proposes to use DUAL FUEL: A train similar to the ones Alliance proposes to use

A TRAIN operator has revealed plans for a ‘competitively-priced’ high-speed rail link between Furness and London.

Alliance Rail Holdings wants to run a direct service from Carlisle to Euston, with trains stopping at Ulverston and Carnforth, three times a day.

The service would use innovative dual-fuel trains – the first of their kind to be built – to take passengers from Ulverston and Carnforth to the capital in just three and a half hours.

And if people have to stand, the operators have promised they will get half their fare refunded.

Currently, commuters from Ulverston and Carnforth have to travel along the Furness Line and change at Lancaster to get to London via the West Coast Main Line.

The direct service would cut journey times by up to 46 minutes, including the 20 to 31 minutes wait for a connection at Lancaster station.

The current cost of a ticket from Carnforth to London is £75.90 if bought on the day.

Alliance declined to say whether it would be entering a price war with other companies, such as Virgin, which runs WCML trains, but said a single ticket between Carnforth and London might cost £45 to £50.

The company, owned by Berlin-based Deutsche Bahn, hopes to offer a service for tourists seeking affordable travel options.

The proposal has been welcomed by local MPs and business bosses.

Ian Stephens, chief executive at Cumbria Tourism, said: “These plans are certainly a few years down the line but we would welcome any developments to improve rail connectivity into Cumbria.

“The vast majority of our visitors arrive and tend to travel around by car, therefore any improvements to public transport services to encourage more sustainable travel should be supported.”

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris has been campaigning to get WCML trains to stop at Carnforth for two years.

He said: “If Alliance’s proposal is a success this will be great news for Carnforth station, green tourism and the local economy.”

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock said: “Faster transport links with the capital and other big centres of population can make the crucial difference for firms making decisions on where to invest and create new jobs.”

Alliance is holding talks with train manufacturers to build 16 trains, capable of travelling at the 125mph British speed limit.

They would be diesel powered on the Furness Line section then tap into the electric WCML at Lancaster.

The trains would carry up to 350 passengers and the service could be in operating by 2013.

Alliance head of systems Chris Brandon said: “There is nothing like this currently operating in the UK.

"We want to concentrate very much on a fair deal for the passenger.”

Carnforth Chamber of Trade secretary Ray Parkinson said: “There are new developments on the horizon in Carnforth including plans for a business and leisure park and a direct London link would be a great benefit to that and existing traders.”

Stewart Klosinski, of Furness Enterprise Partnership, welcomed the proposed new service and said: “It sounds like an Easyjet sort of approach to rail travel.”

Chairman of the Furness Line Action Group Alan Ball, said: “If it did happen it would be great for the town."

But he claimed it would ‘not be economically viable’ for the service to stop at Ulverston.

Mr Brandon said Alliance was confident the scheme would go-ahead and work could begin in six months.

Lancaster University’s Professor Roger Kemp, an expert on railways, predicted the project would face a number of obstacles.

“It is extremely expensive to build a brand new kind of train, especially once they have gone through UK rail regulations and checks,” he said.

“It could cost up to £50 million to develop.”

Alliance, which was formed in 2009, must apply to the Office of Rail Regulation for approval.

A Network Rail spokesman said the company had had initial talks with Alliance but had not yet received an application.

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