Open for Business: How we approve the right access applications

18 October 2019

By David Reed, Senior Manager, Access Policy.

David ReedAny would-be train operator wanting to run trains on the national network must get our approval of a track access agreement with Network Rail. This sets out where and how often they intend to run trains, the charges they will pay and what happens when things go wrong.

In making access decisions, we must consider our statutory duties and balance them where they do not all point in the same direction. Our duties are varied and include (in no particular order) protecting the interests of users of railway services, promoting use of the network, competition, improvements in rail service performance and efficiency, and having regard to the funds available to the Secretary of State.

Sometimes we receive competing applications from rival operators wanting to run services on the same part of the network. When that happens, we need to decide whether the capacity is available and the implications on performance. We do this by seeking advice from Network Rail and using our own expertise.

If it becomes clear there is not enough capacity to approve all the applications, but there may be enough to accommodate some, we consider all of the potential uses in the round. We assess the costs and benefits of each option, and decide which services to approve based on the best overall use of capacity.

West Coast Main Line

We have recently written to the rail companies explaining how we plan to undertake this process to decide which, if any, of a number of applications to run services on the West Coast Main Line to approve.

We followed a similar process in 2016 when we had four applications to run services on the East Coast Main Line. Our assessment showed that capacity was available, but not enough to accommodate all the aspirations.

We approved two of the applications, one from the East Coast franchisee to provide additional services between London and Edinburgh, Middlesbrough, Harrogate and Lincoln, and another from FirstGroup to launch a new open access service between London and Edinburgh.

We also rejected two other applications as the proposals offered fewer benefits to passengers and would have negatively impacted on the funds available to the Secretary of State.

For more details on how we consider applications, view our 'track access factsheet'.