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Open access: a modern renaissance for UK rail?

Martijn Gilbert, Managing Director

Martijn Gilbert, Managing Director | Hull Trains and Lumo

4 min read Partner content

For almost 25 years open access has provided vital connections between London and East Yorkshire. In recent years, FirstGroup has been forging new connections around the UK, launching and expanding Lumo and growing Hull Trains

As we approach the 200th anniversary of the railway in 2025, the UK's rail industry stands at a crossroads, much like it did in the birthplace of the Stephenson Rocket in Newcastle. At the forefront of this modern transformation is Lumo, one of Britain's newest open access operators. Open access rail is not only revolutionising the industry but also shaping the future of train travel by providing affordable, innovative services that benefit both customers and communities as well as driving record growth on the East Coast Main Line. The success of open access operators like Lumo and Hull Trains demonstrates a compelling case for expanding this model across the UK.

Understanding Open Access Rail
Open access rail relies on private operators to take the full financial risk of running services to often underserved communities by capitalising on gaps in the timetable. Unlike traditional rail services, open access operators like Lumo and Hull Trains are free to innovate and over competitive low-fares, providing greater choice for passengers without any cost to the taxpayer. Open access operators are still required to pay into the railway, by contributing to track access and station charges. The result is healthy competition between operators, increased choice for customers and overall market growth as seen on the East Coast Mainline.

Environmental and Economic Benefits
Trains are the greenest mode of long-distance travel, but with affordable pricing – open access promises to make switching modes from car or plane to train a viable choice. Lumo's recent data reveals it saved 60.6 kilotons of CO2 in the past year, equating to taking 13,475 petrol-powered cars off the road for a year.

The open access model incentivises the operator to deliver for customers. Where there is a choice, customers vote with their feet. Lumo and Hull Trains have been revolutionising the customer offer, evidencing in the recent customer satisfaction results securing an impressive 96 per cent. This follows ORR data showing Hull Trains is the highest performing operator with just 1 per cent of cancellations. With service and reliability met – more people travel, creating a powerful catalyst for growth. A report by specialist consultancy ARUP projects Lumo and Hull Trains will deliver a combined economic benefit of £1.4bn by the end of our track access agreements. These benefits stem from increased connectivity, tourism and local businesses and employment growth along the routes we serve.

Community Engagement and Social Mobility
Being at the heart of the communities they serve is central to the open access model. Both Lumo and Hull Trains invest heavily in local partnerships and community initiatives. Lumo supports organisations such as The People’s Kitchen, Gateshead FC, and the Edinburgh Science Festival. Hull Trains partners with Hull KR, the University of Hull, and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, among many others. These engagements not only strengthen community ties but also enhance social mobility by providing accessible and affordable travel options. Lumo and Hull Trains employ local people in both Newcastle and Hull with 95 per cent of Lumo colleagues entering through the company’s apprenticeship scheme.

Enabling Growth and Opportunity
The future of open access rail is promising. As the industry prepares for the launch of Great British Railways, open access operators are set to play a pivotal role in expanding the UK's rail network. Hull Trains has applied to extend its services to Sheffield, providing the city with a faster link to London and its first regular service from London King's Cross since 1968. Lumo plans to extend its services to Glasgow by 2025, broadening the reach of its environmentally friendly and economically beneficial operations. A bid by Lumo has also been submitted to the ORR to directly link Rochdale and London.

As we embark on the biggest change in rail for a generation, we’re confident open access rail represents a modern renaissance of the pioneering spirit that launched the world's first inter-urban railway with the Stephenson Rocket. It offers solutions customers and taxpayers want and we’re committed to working with you to deliver it.


References
https://www.lumo.co.uk/-/media/Arup/Lumo-Avoided-Emissions-Study.pdf
https://www.lumo.co.uk/-/media/Arup/Lumo-Economic-Impacts-Study.pdf
https://www.hulltrains.co.uk/news/2024/hull-trains-launches-independent-economic-report-into-benefits-for-the-region

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