A NEW bid to run trains direct from the North-East to London has been formally lodged with rail chiefs.

The proposal by York-based Grand Central Railways involves running four trains a day from Sunderland to Kings Cross, via Hartlepool, Eaglescliffe, Thirsk, Northallerton and York.

A further service is planned between York and Chester.

Grand Central wants the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) to grant it track access rights to so it can run the proposed services from December.

It has won backing from Ashok Kumar, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, and Hartlepool MP Ian Wright, who have criticised the poor rail links from their constituencies to the capital.

Grand Central managing director Ian Yeowart said: "The hard work undertaken in fully developing our proposal will now come under scrutiny at the ORR, and we have no doubt that the consistent approach taken to previous applications will result in a positive outcome for the many passengers who will benefit by these proposals."

Grand Central has already seen a bid to run cut-price services on the TransPennine link between Newcastle and Manchester rejected by rail chiefs.

It hopes a decision on its latest bid, which could create up to 50 jobs, will be reached by August.

Meanwhile, the RMT rail union welcomed a call by MPs to protect rail services on the Northern franchise, which includes routes such as Middlesbrough-Darlington and Darlington-Bishop Auckland.

A parliamentary early day motion tabled by Manchester Blackley MP Graham Stringer, supported by MPs from across the region, calls on the Government to prevent a worsening of services, replacement of off-peak services with buses and job losses threatened by the Strategic Rail Authority's (SRA) review of the franchise.

The SRA is examining how to make savings from the franchise, which is operated by SercoNed railways.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "The SRA told us that the new Northern franchise would deliver better rail services and bring an end to uncertainties over rail services in the North of England.

"Barely three months in, it seems that everything is up in the air once more and that rail services and jobs could be cut and fares might go through the roof.

"The North of England needs more and better rail services, not less and more expensive ones."