Wrexham & Shropshire - A

Wrexham & Shropshire - A

Wrexham & Shropshire (legally Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway Company Limited) was an open access operator that provided passenger rail services in the United Kingdom. Services between Wrexham and London Marylebone operated from April 2008 until January 2011.

The company was founded in early 2006 to restore the discontinued service between London and stations in Shropshire and the Welsh Marches. In October 2006, an evaluation service was run from London Marylebone to Wrexham General to test the route's viability. In March 2007, Wrexham & Shropshire applied for track access rights to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to operate services. This application was granted from December 2007, and passenger services started on 28 April 2008. Wrexham & Shropshire had initially planned to operate a small fleet of Class 158 or Class 170 diesel multiple units. However, it was instead decided to use locomotive-hauled rakes of Mark 3 carriages, paired with Driving Van Trailers and Class 67 locomotives.

Originally it was a joint venture between John Laing and Renaissance Trains. The former sold its rail operations division and its shareholding in Wrexham & Shropshire to the German state railway company Deutsche Bahn in January 2008. In September 2009, DB Regio announced that it had arranged to take complete ownership of the company. DB Regio partially aligned the company with another of its subsidiaries, Chiltern Railways, and at one point attempted to merge the two companies together. Financial support for the venture was forthcoming from the Welsh Assembly. New facilities were opened at Wrexham General, while a refurbishment programme of the Mark 3 carriages resulted in higher quality rolling stock being introduced from September 2009.

In 2009, it became clear that the service was attracting a lower than anticipated number of passengers, an outcome that Wrexham & Shropshire attributed to a wider economic downturn. The number of trains operated was decreased from a peak of five per day to three per weekday by December 2010. A rival service launched by Virgin Trains between London and Wrexham via Chester had also been launched in October 2008, other operators also had ambitions to launch direct trains between London and Shrewsbury. During January 2011, it was announced that there was no prospect of the service ever becoming profitable, on 28 January 2011, Wrexham & Shropshire ceased all operations.

Wrexham & Shropshire History

Wrexham & Shropshire Formation

Wrexham & Shropshire was established during early 2006 with the aim of operating rail passenger services between Wrexham and London Marylebone. The company was a joint venture between John Laing and Renaissance Trains. Unlike the majority of train operating companies active at that time, this new operator had not been awarded a franchise to run the service, but instead pursued the venture as an open access operator. There was no incumbent competition, as direct railway services between the region and London had been withdrawn by InterCity in 1992.

The franchised operator Virgin Trains had launched its own service between Shrewsbury and London Euston in May 1998, but the company had decided to withdraw this service during 1999.

In October 2006, an evaluation service ran from London Marylebone to Wrexham General via the proposed route using the EWS Company Train. This evaluation train, formed from a rake of Mark 3 carriages with a British Rail Class 67 locomotive on either end. This was a satisfactory arrangement, and it was announced that a broadly similar arrangement would be used for the regular service during December 2006. However, Wrexham & Shropshire's original plans had envisaged using either Class 158 or Class 170 diesel multiple units, but a lack of available rolling stock had compelled the company to adopt the locomotive-hauled arrangement instead. Reportedly, planners had initially identified five potential routes for the service.

During October 2006, the Welsh Assembly announced that Wrexham & Shropshire did not qualify for employment grants which the company had intended to use to improve the facilities at Wrexham General railway station in order to turn it into its operational centre. This outcome led to speculation that, if sufficient funding could not be found, the company might have to relocate its base to Shrewsbury, and that such a move would adversely impact the number of services that would be operated to/from Wrexham as well as other stations. However, in November 2006, the Welsh Assembly announced that the Wrexham & Shropshire was eligible for the grant and, as a result, a site survey at Wrexham General was undertaken. Upon its completion, the depot was to be open to all train operating companies.

Wrexham & Shropshire Approval and launch

In March 2007, Wrexham & Shropshire lodged an application with the Office of Rail Regulation for track access rights to operate services. In September 2007, the company was granted access rights from December 2007 for a seven-year period. The timing of this decision meant that Wrexham & Shropshire's original plan to launch passenger services in 2007 had to be postponed into the first part of the following year.

On 28 April 2008, Wrexham & Shropshire commenced scheduled passenger operations. The occasion was hailed by Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones as "a key role in building a more effective rail network for Wales". The launch of Wrexham and Shropshire saw the restoration of regular direct trains between Wrexham and London for the first time in 41 years.

The relatively lengthy journey time, which was partly due to the use of unfavourable train paths, was attributed as a detracting element of the service. Favourable features included the rolling stock itself, which was frequently observed to be of a high standard and relatively luxurious. The firm rapidly established an excellent reputation for customer service, being scored on multiple surveys in the high 90s, including a 99 per cent customer satisfaction rating in 2010, the highest of any Britain train operator.

Wrexham & Shropshire Ownership Changes and Proposed Merger

In January 2008, John Laing's rail operations division, which included its shareholding in Wrexham & Shropshire, were sold to the German state railway company Deutsche Bahn. After this transaction, the shareholders in Wrexham & Shropshire were DB Regio (50%), Renaissance Trains (36%) and John Laing (14%). In September 2009, DB Regio announced that it would be taking complete ownership of Wrexham & Shropshire, resulting in its partial alignment with fellow DB-owned UK train operating company Chiltern Railways.

In September 2009, Wrexham & Shropshire announced that from the beginning of 2010, it hoped to transfer operation of the Wrexham & Shropshire branded services to fellow DB Regio subsidiary Chiltern Railways. In light of the problems encountered with Wrexham & Shropshire abstracting revenue from Chiltern Railways, the Department for Transport did not sanction the merger, effectively preventing it from going ahead.

Wrexham & Shropshire Demise

On 28 January 2011, Wrexham & Shropshire ceased all operations after a review had concluded there was no prospect of the business ever being profitable, it had incurred losses of £2.9 million in 2010 alone. While the decision to terminate its services had been heavily influenced by financial factors, the company was not insolvent and was still able to fulfil all of its financial commitments.

The low passenger numbers and lack of profitability were attributed to the Great Recession. Customers who had purchased advanced tickets beyond this date were able to use them on alternative routes using the trains of other companies. The last train that was run by the company was the 18:30 from London Marylebone to Wrexham General.

Following the end of operations, Wrexham & Shropshire's assets were dispersed and typically saw use elsewhere. The majority of the company's former rolling stock was transferred to Chiltern Railways and promptly re-deployed on its core Birmingham-London route. The Class 67 locomotives were returned to general use with their owner DB Schenker. Where possible, Wrexham & Shropshire's staff were found new positions with other train operators.

Wrexham & Shropshire Overview

Wrexham & Shropshire Franchise(s): Open access operator
Not subject to franchising
28 April 2008 – 28 January 2011

Wrexham & Shropshire Main Route(s): Wrexham - Shrewsbury - Wellington - Tame Bridge - London Marylebone
Wrexham & Shropshire Other Route(s): None
Wrexham & Shropshire Fleet Size:
5 Class 67 locomotives
16 Mark 3 carriages
5 Driving Van Trailers

Wrexham & Shropshire Stations Called At: 12 (also called at Wembley Stadium during events)
Wrexham & Shropshire Parent Company: Arriva
Wrexham & Shropshire Reporting Mark: WS

Wrexham & Shropshire Route Map

Wrexham General
Telford Central
Tame Bridge Parkway
Leamington Spa
Wembley Stadium - events only
London Marylebone


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