FirstGroup plc, the leading private sector transport operator, is today submitting the first phase of an application for a new open access rail service between London and Sheffield to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

FirstGroup plans to expand its open access rail operations as part of its award-winning Hull Trains business, building on their successful existing service which has transformed long-distance connectivity between Hull and London.

FirstGroup’s new proposals comprise two return journeys a day from London King’s Cross, calling at Retford, Worksop, Woodhouse and Sheffield, and the company aims to provide a faster link between London and Sheffield than alternative services. Almost three quarters of trips between London and Sheffield are currently made by car, with a further 9% of trips made by coach, and a competitively priced new rail offering will help stimulate a shift in transport mode of choice from road to rail.

The new proposed route will give Sheffield the first regular service from London King’s Cross since 1968 and will also give Worksop in Nottinghamshire the first regular direct London trains in decades. FirstGroup estimates there are 350,000 people in the Worksop and Woodhouse catchment areas who will have direct rail access to London because of these proposals. A sizeable number of rail users in these areas currently drive to Doncaster station to pick up faster services to London rather than travelling via Sheffield, and a convenient rail offering from local stations will also help to reduce the number of these car journeys.

Hull Trains has increased seat capacity and grown the number of direct services from one to eight a day since it took to the tracks almost 25 years ago, improving connectivity to destinations along the route and providing a choice for customers travelling to and from East Yorkshire & the Humber. The latest ORR figures, published in December 2023, show more people are now travelling with Hull Trains than they did before the pandemic, with the operator reporting the strongest recovery in UK journey levels in the sector.

This new application also follows the success of FirstGroup’s second open access service, Lumo, which launched in October 2021 between London and Edinburgh. Lumo’s popularity and success has grown over the last two years, thanks to its low fare model and environmental credentials, and has carried more than two million passengers since launch.

FirstGroup Chief Executive Officer, Graham Sutherland said “We want to leverage our extensive experience of running open access services and repeat the success of Hull Trains and Lumo through this new route that connects London and Sheffield. We have seen the level of growth and opportunity that is possible with open access, as well as the positive effect it can have on the wider market, including economic and environmental benefits. The new service will help to drive modal shift from road to rail by offering customers a more sustainable travel alternative between the two cities. We will be working closely with stakeholders as we build our application and our case for this new offering.”

FirstGroup is submitting a formal application to the ORR. A consultation period will now follow, as well as discussion with Network Rail to secure the required approvals. Options for trains to be used on the route will also be worked up with rolling stock leasing companies. It is anticipated that services could begin in the second half of the 2025 calendar year.