FirstGroup plans Lumo low fare Rochdale-London train

FirstGroup plc has submitted the first phase of an application for a new “open access” rail service between Rochdale and London to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) in a bid to restore this direct link for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.

FirstGroup is planning the new service as part of its low fare Lumo business, building on Lumo’s existing service between London and Edinburgh.

All of the trains on this new route will be electric and battery powered, and the service will be operated by brand new trains built in the UK.

FirstGroup’s proposal for six return journeys a day aims to restore a direct Rochdale to London link via Manchester Victoria which last ran in the year 2000.

“The trains will run from Rochdale to London Euston, calling at Manchester Victoria, Eccles, Newton-le-Willows and Warrington Bank Quay,” said FirstGroup .

“The station at Eccles provides connectivity for other parts of the City of Salford, including the fast-growing MediaCity area, via the nearby interchange with Metrolink and services to Newton-le-Willows will deliver greater rail connectivity for St Helens.

“It is estimated that this new service would provide 1.6m people in the North West with a convenient and competitively priced direct rail service to London from stations that are more local to them, helping to stimulate a shift in transport mode from coach and car travel to rail.

“Furthermore, the new service is expected to have positive benefits for the communities it serves.

“Both of FirstGroup’s open access services Lumo and Hull Trains have delivered material economic benefits since launch and FirstGroup hopes to have a similar positive effect for Rochdale and areas along the route which are seeing wider regeneration efforts.”

Lumo launched in October 2021 between London, Newcastle and Edinburgh on the East Coast Mainline and discussions are currently underway to extend the existing service to and from Glasgow.

The Rochdale service would be the company’s second route.

“Lumo’s popularity and success has grown over the last two years, thanks to its low fare model and environmental credentials, and it has carried around two and a half million passengers since launch,” said FirstGroup.

“Lumo offers a single class of travel with value-for-money fares providing a range of flexible choices; consistent Wi-Fi; and at-seat catering. In an independent survey released last month Lumo scored more than 96% customer satisfaction.”

Unlike most rail services, which are provided under contract to the UK government, “open access” train operators retain all revenue and cost risk and opportunity. FirstGroup is the leading open access operator in the UK, with more open access rail businesses than any other.

FirstGroup CEO Graham Sutherland said: “We have extensive experience of running open access rail operations and we want to bring our successful Lumo service to this new route that connects Rochdale and London.

“We have seen the level of growth and opportunity that is possible with open access, as well as the positive effect it has on the wider market, including economic and environmental benefits.

“In addition, the new service will help to drive modal shift from road to rail between the North West and London. We will be working closely with stakeholders as we build our application and our case for this new service.”

FirstGroup has submitted a formal application to the ORR. A consultation period will now follow, as well as discussion with Network Rail to secure the required approvals. It is anticipated that services could begin in the 2027 calendar year.