Plans to launch a luxury express train between Edinburgh and London have been unveiled in the hope of luring passengers away from first-class air travel with journey times well under four hours.
Bosses say the rival service to East Coast Main Line operator Virgin Trains would make rail travel “glamorous” again, and give passengers greater choice.
The scheme is the brainchild of the Great North Eastern Railway Company, which is hoping to revive the historic branding once used on the line between Edinburgh and London. The new firm promises to cut journey times between the two capitals to less than three-and-a-quarter hours, competing with airlines on both comfort and price.
Brand new high-speed tilting trains would be fitted with first-class “cocoons” like the luxury reclining pods available only to those paying top dollar on transatlantic air routes.
GNER managing director Ian Yeowart said: “We plan some of the best features of transatlantic air airlines. These include private areas where passengers can cocoon themselves. Rail could be glamorous again.”
The firm is proposing to share access on the East Coast Main Line with Virgin Trains, which won the eight-year, £3.3 billion franchise in 2014 in a partnership with Stagecoach.
A submission has been made to the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR), which will rule on whether the plans can proceed.
If approved, GNER says the service would be running in three years, introducing a high-speed service to London 20 years before Scotland benefits from the proposed HS2 line.
GNER is the second firm to ask for access to the track, after First Group made a similar appeal earlier this year. However, both firms face an uphill struggle to convince the ORR to grant approval, with UK government ministers already expressing fears that any track-sharing deal could eat into payments by Virgin to the public purse by £60 million.
If its plans are approved, GNER would be headquartered in Edinburgh, with 140 out of 250 new jobs being based in the Capital. The firm would operate new nine-carriage Pendolino trains, carrying up to 500 passengers every hour.
However, a Virgin Trains spokesman said: “We don’t believe the open access proposals would be compatible with our timetable proposals.”