A direct train from Bolton to London could run under plans being drawn up by Virgin.

The company previously operated services from Manchester to London from 1997 until December 2019, when the company lost the franchise to Avanti – a joint partnership between FirstGroup and Italian national operator Trenitalia.

Now, Virgin has submitted an application to the Office of Rail and Road to run trains under an ‘open access’ agreement with a proposed start date of December 2025 – though the company stressed that timings are subject to change.

Unlike services run under rail franchises, open access operators don’t receive any government subsidies, taking on full commercial risk for their services.

Examples of open access services already running include Arriva’s Grand Central and FirstGroup’s Lumo, which has recently bid to run direct services from Rochdale to London via Warrington.

A spokesperson for the Virgin Group said: “Virgin has submitted an application to the Office of Rail and Road for four Open Access rail paths.  

“Whilst this application is just the first step towards exploring what might be possible, we think Open Access is the way forward. 

“Open Access increases consumer choice and competition both of which Virgin has always supported. 

“Virgin is exceptionally proud of everything Virgin Trains and its wonderful onboard teams achieved in the UK.

“In the 20 years Virgin Trains operated on the West Coast, they reduced journey times considerably, tripled services on key routes and provided an exceptional customer experience while increasing passenger numbers from 8 million to 42 million per year. 

“The team won many awards for service and was incredibly popular with the British public.  We’re confident customers would welcome Virgin Trains back, providing them with much-needed choice and competition.”

Last month, Bolton West MP Chris Green called for a direct service to the capital, saying changing platforms at Piccadilly was ‘really inconvenient’.

Now, the MP has welcomed the news.

The Bolton News: Bolton MP Chris Green welcomed the newsBolton MP Chris Green welcomed the news (Image: Office of Chris Green MP)

Mr Green said: “With so many more people using the railways, it is about time that the sector had the ambition to deliver the routes that people want to use.

“Some rubbished the idea of London having a direct connection to Bolton but Virgin Trains have the ambition we need. I will be taking this up with the Railways Minister.”

However, there are some concerns over whether the route has enough capacity.

Railway engineer Gareth Dennis said: “Every additional long distance service means at least one if not several fewer local services.

“What local services cannot go ahead - or potentially are being lost that otherwise run today – to enable these services?

“That's the question everyoen should be asking.”

The Department for Transport confirmed to The Bolton News last month that the corridor was limited to 12 trains per hour, going up to 13 trains per hour at peak times – saying that running any more would ‘adversely affect performance’ on the network.

Currently, the Castlefield corridor, which runs through Deansgate, Manchester Oxford Road, and Manchester Piccadilly, is considered a bottleneck for services across the region.

An Office of Rail and Road spokesperson said: “We have received Virgin's application.”