THE FIRST train on the new Grand Central rail link to London left the North-East a minute late today - thanks to the media.

A smattering of rail enthusiasts joined staff, a small number of passengers and a posse of regional journalists on the 6.46am service from Sunderland station, calling at Hartlepool, Eaglescliffe, Northallerton and York, before heading direct to King's Cross, in the capital.

The new six-carriage service finally departed more than 18-months after York-based Grand Central Trains was awarded the franchise to operate the first direct services from the North Sea coastal stations of Sunderland and Hartlepool to London in almost 20 years.

It overcame a High Court challenge and problems with the late delivery of rolling stock before finally being given the green flag by the Office of Rail Regulation over the weekend.

Only delays for media pictures caused the train to leave the platform slightly late and by mid-journey the service was said to be running three minutes late, with a scheduled arrival time of 10.32am at King's Cross.

The will initially be only one service, the 6.46am, per day from Sunderland, returning from King's Cross at 4.50pm, scheduled to arrive back on Wearside by 8.35pm.

But there will also be a further daily direct train from King's Cross to York, at 11.27am, arriving at 1.19pm, returning at 2.10pm, with the scheduled arrival in London at 4.05pm.

Engineering work on the East Coast Main Line means there will be no services from Sunday, until Boxing Day (Wednesday), but the interim timetable resumes on Thursday next week.

Following New Year the trains will feature a full restaurant service, open to both first class and standard rate passengers, with a free wii-fi connection throughout the train to be fitted next month.

The arrival of the rest of the fleet is expected to enable Grand Central to run its planned three daily services from Sunderland by the end of January.

Carriages are distinctively decorarated, some bearing images of legendary film star Marilyn Monroe, and others with popular board game boards, for Monopoly and Cluedo, embedded into tables.

Fares have been kept at a simple 44 single and 69 return, with half-price for concessions, between Sunderland and London, with passengers able to pay on board the train.

Further details are available on, which carries latest timetable and ticket information.