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25 June: news in brief

FirstGroup fights for rail businesses today

AN emergency general meeting of FirstGroup plc this afternoon will vote on proposals from an American hedge fund that the company should concentrate on its bus business in the USA, and stop running trains in Britain. The motion, from Coast Capital, also involves the departure of six of the present directors by appointing seven replacements. Coast Capital owns 10 per cent of FirstGroup. It has emerged in the past 24 hours that Coast Capital will be backed by another 10 per cent shareholder, Columbia Threadneedle, and it has also been reported that Schroders, with 9 per cent, will join the rebellion. The board level crisis has come at an awkward time, because industry sources say the Department for Transport is poised to award the West Coast Partnership to First. The DfT has declined to comment, but the award of West Coast Partnership does appear to be on hold. Meanwhile, First has been downgrading its forecasts for two of its three franchises, South Western Railway and Transpennine Express. It is known to be in talks with the DfT about changing the terms of the SWR contract, while First made a provision in May last year for a loss of £106 million during the remainder of the TPE contract. First reported a pre-tax loss of £327 million for the year to 31 March 2018, having made a profit of £152.6 million the year before.

Grand Central confirms Blackpool open access plan

GRAND Central has confirmed that its plans to run open access services between London and Blackpool North are moving ahead, with a launch expected next spring. The proposal has been on the table since 2015, and the ORR approved it in June last year. Grand Central, which is owned by Arriva, has prepared a timetable of five daily trains calling at Poulton-le-Fylde, Kirkham & Wesham, Preston and Nuneaton. Most trains will also call at Milton Keynes Central. Grand Central managing director Richard McClean said: ‘We are delighted to announce our plans to operate direct train services between London and Blackpool from early next year. We will bring our operational expertise and industry-leading customer service to this new route, offering more choice for existing rail users and new opportunities for people to travel by train. The expansion of our services will bring significant economic benefits, empower communities along the routes and offer fantastic new career opportunities.’

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