* Prices may differ from that shown
Grand Central is a open-access train operator, who operate two routes from London King Cross to the North of England. Unlike other operators, they have flexibility as to where they can operate, where as other train operators are under franchise, where they operate the routes set by Network Rail.
The first route they operated is Sunderland-King Cross via Hartlepool, Eaglescliffe (for Middlesbrough), Northallerton, Thirsk and York before running non-stop to London. The second route is Bradford Interchange-King Cross via Halifax, Brighouse (for Huddersfield), Wakefield Kirkgate, Pontefract Monkhill and Doncaster before running non-stop to London.
The company uses a combination of HSTs and Class 180s on its routes. The company offer First Class travel on its busier journeys, while the restriction is removed on the quieter journeys. However, standard class seating also has good leg room, so you don't lose any comfort sitting in second class. Every row has a plug socket on the side, while allow passengers to plug in electrical items such as laptops and mobile phone chargers, so this means your batteries will be charged up at the end of your journey. For people using laptops, there is also free wi-fi for all passengers (where some train operators offer wi-fi for first class only), although sometimes connecting to the network can be problematic. This may depend on whereabouts you sit on the train.
Like some trains, there are table seats, where four people can sit round a table. On some journeys, these tables have little board games built in, offering passengers the chance to play Monopoly or Cluedo (although, you will need your own playing pieces). Every train comes with a buffer car, which allows you to buy food and drink for your journey, although it is more expensive than buying in the shop beforehand.
Grand Central is also appealing with tickets. The company charges the same price for tickets whether you buy it on the train, at the ticket office or online. While buying it online makes sure you are guaranteed a seat, you won't be paying extra if you buy your ticket on the day. They will also offer cheaper tickets for journeys made on their trains only rather than any train operator tickets. An example of this is Hartlepool to Sunderland, where tickets cost (as of 2011) £3 single and £4 return if you travel on Grand Central or £5.70 single and £5.90 return if you travel on Northern Rail and/or Grand Central. Another option is travelling between two places on a Grand Central route that would require a change of train otherwise. If you are unable to get a seat on one of their services, then they will only charge half-price for your ticket.
A good thing about Grand Central is that it offers passengers the chance to make a journey without the need of having to change trains. For example, passengers from Sunderland would normally have to change at Newcastle to travel to London or York. Passengers in Hartlepool would also have to go to Newcastle to travel to London/York or travel to Middlesbrough to travel to York. Passengers in Bradford and Calderdale would have to change at Leeds to travel to Doncaster and London.
The downside of Grand Central is they don't offer a frequent service, which is one of the disadvantage of operating open-access rather than as a franchise. Only 3 journeys per day run to/from Bradford and 4 journeys per day to/from Sunderland, which means you're slightly restricted as to when to travel.
Grand Central is a privately woned train service that runs along the lenght (but not breadth) of the UK, starting off in Glasgow and terminating in London King's Cross via Sunderland, Hartlepool, Thirsk, and York amongst ther locations. The service is very cheap by today's standards, with a trip costing £30-50 depending on the length of your journey. It's also very fast, due to the directness of the route and rarity of stops, and can get you across half the country in just 2 or 3 hours.
The trains themselves are smart and clean, and extremely punctual (which is refreshing to say the least) and are also comfortable and rarely crowded. The Grand Central website is also easy to use, allowing you to check traintimes and check for any disruptions,a s well as book tickets (although you can buy them on the train at no extra cost)
The ownsides to the serive are the small number of stops available, and most of all the irregularity of the trains, which run sporadicaly throughout the day, mening that depending on where you are you may not be able to get a train til 11.00 in the morning. The trains do run til reasonabl late, though, and the fact that there are no connections means thre is less chance of getting stuck/delayed, and also of course means less hassle.
A surprisingly good and generally reasonably priced service then, but more services are needed throughout the day.