A new train operator has been given permission to start offering services between Paddington station and South Wales.

Concept for train interior – not final design (c) Grand Union Trains

The new open access operator, Grand Union Trains, plans to run trains fast between Paddington and Bristol Parkway, and then stop at a number of stations to Carmarthen, including options to call at two new stations being planned for south Wales.

The first, called variously the West Wales Parkway or Swansea North, is proposed to be situated at the former Felindre steelworks, near Junction 46 of the M4 and A48 — just to the north of Swansea. There is also a station proposed to be built to the east of Cardiff, known as Cardiff Parkway and the trains will also call there when it opens, currently expected to be in 2024.

Bypassing Swansea town centre in favour of the new parkway station is expected to reduce London to Carmarthen journey times by around 20 minutes.

Route map (c) Grand Union Trains

The train company expects to start services at the start of 2025, based on the December 2024 timetable changes.

Grand Union Trains had previously applied to run the services in 2020, but permission was refused by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) in February 2021. The company came back with a revised application in June 2022, which was disputed by Network Rail due to concerns about capacity on the railway. But the ORR has decided that the issues are not a problem and instructed Network Rail to enter into a contract with Grand Union.

The permission grants Grand Union authority to operate five daily return services between London Paddington and Carmarthen, calling at Llanelli, Gowerton, Cardiff Central, Newport, Severn Tunnel Junction and Bristol Parkway.

Stephanie Tobyn, Director of Strategy, Policy and Reform at ORR said: “This decision supports more choice for passengers, new direct journey opportunities, more price competition, and new comfortable trains.”

“The added competition should also make a significant contribution to innovation in terms of the routes served, ticketing practices and service quality improvements, by both Grand Union and through the response of existing operators.”

As an ‘open access’ train operator, Grand Union Trains will not get paid subsidies from public funds, unlike current operators along the route, but its arrival will suck away passengers from other train companies. That means the government is expected to lose around £17.6 million a year due to fewer passengers on government regulated services, mainly GWR.

Grand Union Trains is buying a fleet of new bi-mode trains, and will be guaranteeing a seat for all journeys over 30 minutes in duration. They are also looking at adding a rail freight option to their trains making use of any empty space they have.

So, come early 2025, look for a new name appearing on the departure boards at London Paddington station.

The company is also applying to run services between Stirling and London along the West Coast Main Line.

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19 comments
  1. Dan Coleman says:

    Brilliant move. Great to get finally get an alternative to the GWR monopoly.

    • Gareth says:

      It’s great that they’re having a go. But Wrexham & Shropshire tried it 15 years ago doing London to N Wales, and despite a tremendous effort they were scuppered by Virgin Trains throwing a strop and making life almost impossible for them. I suspect GWR will pull the same stunt here.

  2. Julian says:

    Severn Tunnel Junction seems an odd stop on the face of it, but I guess there are new developments planned for the area and the Welsh Government is known to be keen that such developments are served by good public transport links. An interesting new service.

    • Alex says:

      It’s a pretty good interchange, you could change there to head towards Gloucester, Cheltenham, Portsmouth Harbour, Penzanze, and all the stations in-between. Of course, not all of these are *best* served by STJ, but some will be, especially coming from Wales towards London, depending on timings.

    • Tim Tim says:

      I understand that they are going to make investments at STJ. I take that to mean that they will be installing a big(ger) car park.

  3. Bob McIntyre says:

    GUT seem a bit confused as to the geography of south Wales. Gowerton is on the existing mail line between Swansea and Llanelli and would means trains using the shortcut behind Landore depot to avoid Swansea. Felindre is on the Swansea District line which leaves the main line at Briton Ferry and rejoins it at Llanelli. You can only go one way or the other.

    Currently the plans to build a station at Felindre are, like many other schemes, up in the air due to lack of funding and may never happen.

    Whilst any competitor to the ironing-board seats of GWR is welcome, GUT’s previous attempts to run a service from Blackpool were pulled even after locos and coaches were ready to go, and so like many in this part of the world, we’ll believe it only when the fat tenor sings!

    • Andrew Saffrey says:

      I think it might be an either/or. They will probably serve Gowerton until the Parkway opens.

    • JP says:

      Re your seat comment, I wholeheartedly agree and am encouraged by Stephanie from the ORR’s mention of “new comfortable trains.” Surely a subtle dig at First Group’s bum-numb~ers.

  4. Chris Gomez says:

    Does anyone know how season tickets are likely to work (ie will they be able to be use on either operator’s trains or separate season tickets available for each)? I’ve tried to look up the situation for other open access operators but can’t easily find much on it online!

    • ianVisits says:

      Best to ask in late 2024 when they announce their prices.

    • ChrisC says:

      Grand Central doesn’t have a season ticket but it does sell carnet at a discount.

      Given that all operators make several announcements on which tickets are valid on which trains it’s unlikely there would be any intra operability other than when there is massive disruption.

  5. James Miller says:

    In the next couple of years there’s going to be a lot of action in West Wales as engineers and financiers start to create the offshore wind industry in the Celtic Sea. The Government is aiming to create a supply chain in the area and eventually build as much as 50 GW of floating wind power. A fast railway service to London could be a nice little earner.

  6. Howard Stephens says:

    As the route by-passes Neath and Swansea,I thought a Port Talbot stop would have been desirable.

  7. Tom says:

    Great, cannot wait to have an alternative to the dismal service provided by GWR. This looks like a service focused on the long distance journey experience rather than focussing on cramming in as many seats as possible for the Didcot – Reading – London run.

    I hope they take on the Cornwall route next if this one is successful.

  8. Claire says:

    If done well, it could be good. I regularly try to seatfrog to 1st class, especially in the busier times. Post COVID, sandwiches are no more, biscuits are a paltry offering… Gone are the days it seems when you didn’t have to worry about making sure you had a sandwich for the journey! Fine if you’ve paid a tenner to upgrade, but if you paid full price, less so.
    And those seats are solid.

    • Roger Sweet says:

      What’s nearest stop to Swansea Central High Street etc?
      Bring back proper dining cars with full silver service x 3 calls meal times

  9. James Miller says:

    The distance between Cardiff and Carmarthen direct is 75 miles. Hitachi have been very quiet about how the testing of the batteries are going in the 802s. Is it a case of no news is good news. Note that GUT are buying nine-car trains, which is five slots for batteries or diesels. I wonder, if they can put in a combination, that will give a range of 80 miles, so that with a charger at Carmarthen, they could run almost diesel-free? And if GWR fitted batteries in their 802s, they could run Swansea diesel-free?

  10. R Williams says:

    Setting aside the more obvious benefits, it is vital that the Swansea North Station is built in order to safeguard the future of the Swansea & District line. The S&D is a valuable piece of infrastructure that has been criminally neglected for decades. Its current use is limited to servicing freight trains (primarily from the Trostre steelworks in Llanelli), and the odd boat-train from Fishguard Harbour to Paddington. (Not saying that it is, but) if Trostre were to close, the S&D would be under real threat, as there would be insufficient traffic to justify its retention. Creating a passenger stopping service would be a massive boost for the line, and hopefully, in years to come, would facilitate the development of further, more localised services as well as Inter-City ones. The S&D has been neglected by successive administrations. With the coming of a new passenger service running over it, perhaps both politicians and rail administrators will finally wake up to the potential the S&D offers, to an area of the country that is, for the greater part, fairly depressed.

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