Co-operative train operator planning route from Birmingham to South and West
A mutually-owned train operator run by passengers, employees and other investors has revealed plans to open up a route connecting Birmingham to the West Country and the South Coast.
Go! Co-operative, which is hoping to become the UK’s first train operator co-operative, is raising money in a bid to run trains which would connect Birmingham Moor Street to under-served towns throughout Somerset and Dorset.
The mutual would take advantage of the “open access” provision in place since the railways were privatised, where an organisation can offer a new route if it can prove it will bring extra passengers to the network and not compete with owners of the big franchises.
Go! Co-operative has identified a route between the Midlands and the West Country – a stretch regarded as a known failure in the present timetable – connecting Yeovil to Swindon, Oxford and Birmingham Moor Street.
Once the services is established, Go! is hoping to expand to provide access down to Weymouth on the coast.
The mutually-owned structure will see passengers hold 50 per cent of the vote in general meetings, whereas employees would have 25 per cent and other investors would have 25 per cent.
Chris Phillimore, business development director at Go! Co-operative, said the scheme ties in with political rhetoric at the moment around handing over a greater share of control over key services to the public.
The recently-published Labour Party manifesto also lays out a commitment to encouraging mutuallly-owned railway operators.
“The primary force behind this is to apply a different ownership model to the rail industry,” said Mr Phillimore. “All of the political parties are talking about different ways to run public services so to a certain extent, we are of the moment.
“And the reaction we have got from politicians we are speaking to has been very encouraging.”
Mr Phillimore said the proposed route would provide a direct service for the first time between Swindon and Oxford, as well as open up South Coast destinations for Midland holiday-makers.
“The route we are looking at has the advantage of covering a number of different travel patterns – there’s more of a variety of market.
“We looked at five or six different routes in southern England and made some technical assessments and one of the reasons we chose this one is that it fills a number of gaps in current rail services.
“Weymouth for example was always a very popular holiday resort for people in the West Midlands.”
The co-operative has so far raised £60,000 from small investors as well as £60,000 from other co-operative bodies.
It is seeking further investment to take it up to the £250,000 needed to see it through the initial regulatory stage.
Go! is negotiating with the rail authorities over a licence, and is hoping to gain regulatory approval in September this year, with a vision of having trains running by December 2011 and of making a profit by 2015.
But to actually run the service, several million pounds worth of investment will be required in order to buy and operate trains, much of which Mr Phillimore envisages will come from equity investment or bank finance.
Although the rail service is at the heart of its plans, Go! is also looking at commercial opportunities in the car club, light rail and bus markets which would “feed” into the rail service.