Central Trains
Franchise(s)Central Trains
2 March 1997 – 11 November 2007
Main region(s)Midlands (East, West)
Other region(s)North West England, East Anglia, South East Wales
Fleet size156
Stations called at232 (193 operated)
Parent companyNational Express
Reporting markCT
PredecessorRegional Railways
SuccessorLondon Midland
East Midlands Trains
Central Trains' earliest logo, drawing on that of predecessor Regional Railways

Central Trains[1] was a train operating company in the United Kingdom owned by National Express that operated a variety of local and inter-regional trains from 2 March 1997 until 11 November 2007.


Created out of the Central division of Regional Railways during the Privatisation of British Rail, Central Trains passed into the private sector on 2 March 1997.[2] The franchise was awarded to National Express, who maintained control of the company until its eventual demise in 2007. Central Trains employed over 2,400 staff.[3]

The company invested significantly in rolling stock, with significant orders for new trains placed and the fleet later further grown through the acquisition of trains made surplus by other companies. Despite a reduction in the area covered during the ten years of its existence, the company grew its core fleet from fewer than 300[2] passenger vehicles to a total of 379[3][4] – a capacity increase of over 28%. It also refurbished a number of its stations, introducing ticket gates, help points and live information boards.

Central Trains also clamped down on vandalism on its trains and fare evasion, including through a controversial poster campaign publicising the names and addresses of passengers who had been fined for not having valid tickets.[5]

The franchise gained a reputation for poor timekeeping: its best performing period between 2000 and 2007 still saw one in six trains five minutes late or more,[6] with punctuality dropping as low as 61% in 2003.[7] The company also suffered from ongoing staff relations problems which led to extensive and long-lasting cancellations of Sunday services.[8][9][10]

Following a government policy announced in 2004, Central Trains was eventually disbanded in November 2007 with its services dispersed amongst London Midland, East Midlands Trains and CrossCountry.


At its greatest extent, Central Trains operated 253 stations and provided services covering 1,534 miles of the UK's railway network, covering most of central England and Mid Wales.[11] In its last years, the company saw 43 million passenger journeys and a total of 930 million miles travelled every year.

Services ranged from rural and local services to flagship express services originally branded as Alphaline and later developed into Central Citylink. In the West Midlands, the company also operated the extensive urban rail services under contract to the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive.

Long distance services

Key longer distance and express routes included:

From 2003 onwards, the Central Citylink brand name was used by Central Trains to differentiate its long-distance and regional express routes from local services. The brand was used in timetables and publicity to highlight the enhanced service provided on such routes.

A map of the Citylink routes

While there was no separate dedicated fleet, Citylink services were usually operated by Central Trains' more modern Class 170 and Class 158 diesel multiple units, featuring air-conditioning and reservable seating. At-seat catering was also provided on many services.[12][13]

Central Trains' Guide 1 timetable was designated for all Citylink services, and highlight the special features of the brand.[14]

Regional services

Central Trains' 158855 at Oxford in 2003, on hire to Thames Trains for Bristol-Oxford and Oxford-Bicester Town services.

Network West Midlands services

Service Changes

1990s New long distance services

In the late 1990s, Central Trains began publicising additional long-distance through journeys, by amalgamating previously self-contained services in its timetables. For example, where a train had previously been timetabled to work a Shrewsbury to Birmingham service followed by a Birmingham to Leicester service, the workings were combined and shown as a single direct Shrewsbury – Birmingham – Leicester service in the public timetable. This resulted in some particularly lengthy services such as those from Aberystwyth in Mid Wales to Grimsby on the opposite coast of the UK.[15][16]

Additionally, direct services from Birmingham to Stansted Airport were introduced during May 1998.[17]

2001 Mid Wales service transfer

Services west of Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, Pwllheli and Chester were transferred away as part of the formation of a new combined Wales & Borders franchise in late 2001. Eleven Class 158 units were transferred to the new operator at this time.

2004–2005 Service changes

Central Trains had a major shakeup between 2004–2005 to prepare them for the eventual break up of the franchise. In 2004, services from Leamington Spa to Birmingham Snow Hill & Stratford upon Avon were transferred into Chiltern Railways, but the company maintained a peak hour service to and from Leamington Spa. The service between Birmingham and Stourbridge was increased to every 10 minutes and this in turn increased the Kidderminster service, as a part of the new Stourbridge line timetable all remaining Birmingham New Street trains were diverted into Birmingham Snow Hill. Liverpool Lime Street to Stansted Airport split at New Street to form two services due to problems with delays. Previously Central Trains ran services from Birmingham New Street to Nottingham via Leicester as well as Derby, this service was split, the Leicester to Nottingham service was merged with the hourly Ivanhoe Line service to Loughbourgh and was extended past Nottingham all stations to Lincoln.

During 2004, Trent Valley local services that ran generally between Stafford and Nuneaton (some extended to / from Coventry or Rugby) were discontinued due to a Driver shortage and not restored until over year later, when they were replaced by an electric service from Northampton to Crewe. Another fatality of the 'lack of Drivers' was the service between Birmingham to Stafford via Walsall, services were cut back (as today) to run between Birmingham and Rugeley Trent Valley.

Central discontinued their single Northampton service a day which ran to Nottingham (and other locations) via Birmingham once they gained the Birmingham to Northampton route from sister company Silverlink Trains in 2004–2005. Two trains per hour from Birmingham New Street – London Euston via Northampton was replaced by one train per hour to Northampton which connected badly with onward services to London Euston (although a few trains a day did run straight through to / from London as an unofficial joint service). The Northampton service started off as an hourly express service until it was merged with the local service to Coventry adding more journey time.

Coventry to Nottingham via Leicester services were discontinued after engineering work at Nuneaton station made it impossible for trains from Coventry to join the line towards Leicester and no attempt was ever made to rectify this. This service was restored in 2005 as an hourly shuttle to Nuneaton, with passengers requiring changing at Nuneaton for Leicester (and change again at Leicester for Nottingham).

The local service to and from Coventry to Wolverhampton calling all stations was also changed in 2004. It was split at Birmingham New Street as Central Trains starting operating Class 321 EMUs. A later development was implemented that had trains running express from New Street to Birmingham International (with some stops at Marston Green) then all stations to Coventry and services to Walsall were extended to Birmingham International calling all stations, Adderley Park station was cut down to one train per hour shortly after this.

Central Trains operated train crew depots at:

Central Trains maintained and stored trains at:


Considering the difficulties with which Central Trains contended, including sharing tracks with so many other operators, it did not perform too badly in its twilight months. The last figures released by the ORR (Office of Rail Regulation) rated Central Trains' performance at 84.8% for the PPM (Public Performance Measure) over the third quarter of the financial year 2007/8.[18] This was an improvement over the same period the previous year, during which they achieved 82.7%. Their final MAA was 86.6%.[18]

Rolling stock

Central Trains' 156402 in Regional Railways livery at Coventry in 2000. The direct service from Coventry to Skegness ceased in 2004.

Central Trains' fleet was primarily made up of diesel multiple unit trains, with an additional fleet of electric trains in use around Birmingham.

The awarding of the franchise was soon followed by multiple orders for a total of 33 new air-conditioned, 100 mph Turbostar trains, intended to boost the fleet and replace older rolling stock. Though a large number of 1980s and 1990s diesel multiple unit trains inherited from British Rail remained, the last 1960s and 70s 'slam door' trains had been retired by 2000.[19]

Over the course of the franchise, a number of the older Class 156 and Class 158 trains were transferred away to other operators including Wales & Borders and One. This was balanced by the acquisition of additional Turbostar trains no longer required by sister company Midland Mainline as well as additional Class 150 and Class 158 units made surplus by other operators. Over the years, both Class 150 and 158 trains were shuffled between two and three carriage formations to meet changing needs.

The Strategic Rail Authority decision to divert rolling stock originally intended for South West Trains[20] also saw the company benefit from a fleet of 30 new 100 mph Class 350 Desiro units, which were shared with Silverlink for use on the West Coast Main Line between Euston and Northampton/Liverpool via Tamworth.

Rolling stock in 1997 consisted entirely of trains inherited from British Rail. Some, such as Class 310 and Class 312 trains were in the process of withdrawal at privatisation.[2] By the final months of the franchise, Central Trains had a significantly more modern fleet.[4] It was also supplementing its fleet with Class 321 and new Class 350 electric trains shared with sister company Silverlink.

Fleet at start of franchise

Rolling stock in 1997 consisted entirely of trains inherited from British Rail. Some, such as Class 310 and Class 312 trains were in the process of withdrawal at privatisation.[2]

Class Image Type Top speed Number Routes operated Built
mph km/h
150 Sprinter DMU 75 120 29× 2 car

9× 3 car

Some Centro services.

Dorridge/Shirley/Stratford Upon Avon/Leamington Spa – Worcester/Great Malvern/Hereford. Some non Centro routes Crewe to Skegness, Derby to Matlock and Nottingham to Worksop

153 Super Sprinter 21 Lincolnshire and Mid Wales rural services, Stourbridge branch line, Skegness to Crewe & Derby to Matlock and Nottingham to Birmingham New Street/Shrewsbury via Derby 1987–1988
156 Super Sprinter 20 Aberystwyth and Chester to Birmingham New Street, Hereford to Birmingham New Street, Birmingham New Street to Leicester, Nottingham, Lincoln Central & Grimsby Town, Nottingham to Worksop, Crewe to Skegness. 1987–1989
158 Express Sprinter 90 145 36 Norwich to Liverpool, Stansted to Birmingham, Nottingham to Cardiff, Grimsby to Birmingham, Birmingham to Liverpool 1989–1992
310 EMU 75 121 10 Already being withdrawn at privatisation, remained as backup for the newly introduced Class 323. 1966
312 90 145 4 1976
323 26 Cross City Line 1992–1995

Fleet at end of franchise

By the final months of the franchise, Central Trains had a significantly more modern fleet.[4] It was also supplementing its fleet with Class 321 and new Class 350 electric trains shared with sister company Silverlink.

Class Image Type Top speed Number Usual routes operated Built
mph km/h
150 Sprinter DMU 75 120 18× 2 car

18× 3 car

Non-electric services for Network West Midlands, plus some services to Worcester, Malvern and Hereford. 1984–1987
153 Super Sprinter 16 Lincolnshire rural services, Coventry–Nuneaton and Stourbridge branch line. 1987–1988
156 Super Sprinter 10 Middle-distance services, mainly in the East Midlands. 1987–1989
158 Express Sprinter 90 145 13× 2 car

8× 3 car

Middle-distance services and some Citylink duties. 1989–1992
170 Turbostar 100 160 31× 2 car

22× 3 car

Citylink services and general use across the franchise area. 1999–2002
321 EMU 37 (Shared with Silverlink) Birmingham – Northampton 1990–1991
323 90 145 26 Cross City Line 1992–1995
350/1 Desiro 100 160 30 (Shared with Silverlink) Electrified Citylink services from Birmingham 2004–2005

Franchise cessation

In October 2004, the Department for Transport unveiled plans designed to streamline rail franchises which included the abolition of the Central Trains franchise and the transfer of its services to other operators.[21] It was announced that the franchise would end in April 2007, although there was a later extension until November 2007[22]).

On 11 November 2007, Central Trains ceased to exist and its services transferred to three new train operating companies:


  1. ^ Companies House extract company no 3007938 Central Trains Limited
  2. ^ a b c d Knight, Steven, ed. (1997). "A comprehensive guide to Britain's new railway". Peterborough: EMAP Apex Publications. ISSN 1368-437X. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b "Key Facts and Figures". Central Trains. Archived from the original on 11 February 2007.
  4. ^ a b c "Fleet Lists". The Junction. Archived from the original on 16 September 2007.
  5. ^ "Train firm tackles fare dodging". BBC News. 29 August 2006. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
  6. ^ "Train firm's timekeeping improves". BBC News. 29 March 2007. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
  7. ^ "Train punctuality plummets". BBC News. 13 March 2003. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
  8. ^ "No drivers means no Sunday trains". BBC News. 16 December 2005. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
  9. ^ "Driver shortage disrupts trains". BBC News. 17 December 2006. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
  10. ^ "Rail travellers face disruption". BBC News. 12 August 2007. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
  11. ^ Johnston, Howard, ed. (2001). "The comprehensive guide to Britain's railways". A Comprehensive Guide to Britain's New Railway. Peterborough: EMAP Active. ISSN 1368-437X.
  12. ^ National Express Group Archived 24 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Central takes second-hand route". BBC News. 27 January 2005. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  14. ^ Central Trains' timetables Archived 22 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Statutory Instrument 1999 No. 1932". Archived from the original on 3 December 2008. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  16. ^ "National Rail Timetable 28 May to 23 September 2000". Great Britain National Rail Passenger Timetable. London: Railtrack plc. 2000. ISSN 1367-0352.
  17. ^ "North Staffordshire Railway Passenger Services 1910-1999".
  18. ^ a b "Office of Rail Regulation – National Rail Trends" (PDF). ORR. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 December 2008.
  19. ^ "Our Fleet". Central Trains. Archived from the original on 11 February 2007.
  20. ^ "Press Release". Angel Trains. Archived from the original on 25 May 2006. Retrieved 16 February 2010.
  21. ^ "Rail franchising arrangements, October 2004". Department for Transport. Archived from the original on 8 August 2007. Retrieved 19 May 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  22. ^ "Central Trains franchise extended". BBC News. 2 April 2006. Retrieved 28 January 2007.
  23. ^ "'Nottingham split' scrapped, but hourly Norwich – Liverpool service under threat". The Norfolk Railway Society. July–August 2006. Archived from the original on 10 March 2007. Retrieved 28 January 2007.

Further reading

Preceded byRegional RailwaysAs part of British Rail Operator of Central Trains franchise 1997–2007 Succeeded byCrossCountryNew CrossCountry franchise Succeeded byLondon MidlandWest Midlands franchise Succeeded byEast Midlands TrainsEast Midlands franchise