Rochdale station

UK: FirstGroup has applied to operate Rochdale – London open access passenger trains, more than 20 years after a short-lived through service ran between the two destinations.

On May 17 FirstGroup said that it had applied to the Office of Rail & Road to launch six Lumo-branded return journeys per day linking London Euston and Rochdale via the West Coast Main Line. The trains would call at Warrington Bank Quay, Newton-le-Willows, Eccles and Manchester Victoria.

The company explained that the service could serve a catchment area of around 1·6 million people in the northwest. The station at Eccles serves the wider city of Salford, including the fast-growing MediaCity area via the nearby interchange with Metrolink light rail services, while the call at Newton-le-Willows would deliver greater rail connectivity for St Helens.

Lumo at London King's Cross (Photo Lumo)

The route would be the second to use the Lumo brand; Lumo currently provides a high-density inter-city service between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh.

FirstGroup said the service would use battery-equipped electric rolling stock manufactured in the UK; the only section of the route not electrified is between Miles Platting, just east of Manchester, and Rochdale.

The company hopes the service could launch by the end of 2027. In doing so, FirstGroup would revive a short-lived service launched by Regional Railways North West franchisee North Western Trains in 1997 which used Class 158 DMUs. FirstGroup acquired NWT to create First NorthWestern, but the London service ceased in 2000.

FirstGroup is the majority shareholder in Avanti West Coast, which runs inter-city services between London Euston and northwest England under a National Rail Contract running to October 2026. There are currently no open access services using the WCML, but a rival proposal has been lodged with ORR by the SLC Rail/Alstom-backed WSMR for a Wrexham – London Euston route.

‘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’, said FirstGroup Chief Executive Officer, Graham Sutherland.

‘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 northwest and London. We will be working closely with stakeholders as we build our application and our case for this new service.’

  • Local operator Northern is to launch a twice-daily return service on Saturdays between Rochdale and Ribblehead from June 2. This ‘Dale to Dales’ service would run via Manchester Victoria, Bolton, Blackburn and Clitheroe. Trains will reach Ribblehead via the line from Clitheroe to Hellifield, which currently sees no scheduled passenger services.