New London train services from Sunderland and Sterling introduced by Virgin Trains

Virgin Trains East Coast launched a new range of services to London yesterday from Stirling and Sunderland in response to passenger demand for more early morning departures, Rail Technology Magazine has reported.

A number of local dignitaries travelled on-board both inaugural services, with the rail minister, Claire Perry MP, meeting the new Sunderland service at London King’s Cross Station. She also named the Virgin Train ‘Spirit of Sunderland’.

David Horne, managing director of Virgin Trains on its east coast route, said: ‘This is a hugely exciting day for us as we launch more services, and add Sunderland to the Virgin rail map.’

Virgin Trains has also announced that with immediate effect that it will operate a new evening service between Hull and Doncaster. The new service is intended to open up new travel opportunities for customers seeking to travel to London.

Perry said: ‘It is fantastic to see the start of these new services from Sunderland and Stirling. As a one nation government, we know that transport doesn’t just help hardworking people get around, it helps them get on.

‘These new services will provide better journeys for customers and boost economic ties between Scotland, the north east and London, stimulating growth and helping rebalance our economy.’

A fleet of 65 new Virgin Trains will also be introduced on the East Coast Main Line from 2018 under the Intercity Express Programme. These trains are being built by Hitachi at its plant in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

TIMETABLE

 

Sunderland to London

 

Sunderland dep: 05:40

 

London King’s Cross arr: 09.08

 

Stirling to London

 

Stirling dep: 05:26

 

London King’s Cross arr: 10.52

 

Hull to Doncaster

 

Hull dep: 20:28

 

Brough dep: 20:42

 

Selby dep: 21:03

 

Doncaster dep: 21.22

Passengers and taxpayers ‘winners’ in new Virgin Trains West Coast contract

Virgin Trains, a UK-based train operator and a subsidiary of the Virgin group of companies, has claimed in a release on its website that passengers and taxpayers are the winners after its signing of a deal with the UK’s Department of Transport to operate the West Coast rail franchise.

The new deal will see Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin company operating the West Coast franchise until March 2017, with an option of a one-year extension. In return, the company is promising thousands of extra seats each day, free superfast WiFi for all customers, new direct services planned from London to Shrewsbury and Blackpool, a rewards programme to add value for passengers, and payments to the taxpayer boosted by 58 percent.

2,100 net extra seats per day will be created by converting the First Class carriages of 21 Virgin trains to Standard Class. This will increase the number of Standard Class seats by 5,500 per day.

All 76 of Virgin’s Pendalino and Super Voyager trains will gain superfast Wifi, an innovation supported by rail authority, Network Rail, which intends to provide the necessary trackside infrastructure.

The new direct services from London to Shrewsbury and Blackpool are expected to commence from December this year.

With the customer reward programme, customers that book tickets via the Virgin Trains website or mobile app will be able to earn Nectar points on their purchase by the end of summer.

The contract will see the Department of Transport receive a guaranteed £430 million from Virgin during the contract period, a 58 percent increase per annum. The DfT will also receive up to 100 percent of additional returns generated by Virgin Trains.

Patrick McCall, Virgin Trains executive co-chairman, said: ‘We’re delighted to have reached a deal after some tough negotiations with the DFT. It puts the problems of 2012 firmly behind us, and shows the clear benefits of a well-run franchise system.’

 

Court case to benefit Britain’s train commuters

The ruling in a landmark court case on season ticket charges is likely to benefit Britain’s hundreds of train passengers, according to a report by the Telegraph.

The ruling in favour of a passenger travelling into London from St Albans could result in regular commuters saving over £700 a year by buying their season ticket from a different station. However train operators are now looking to fix ‘loopholes’ that could otherwise force them to cut the cost of season tickets.

The complainant, Andrew Myers, successfully sued First Capital Connect after he found he was paying £700 more than the cheapest available ticket on his route. Mr. Myers, who works in the City, found that a season ticket from Watford North, costing £3,068 a year, was valid for travel via St Albans into London, for which he was paying £3,800.

First Capital Connect claimed that it was due to a ‘loophole’ in the route planner, which puts St Albans on the route into London from Watford, even though it was further away from the capital. The company had initially sought to settle the case out of court, subject to a ‘non disclosure’ order, but Mr. Myers decided to sue the company.

Mr. Myers won the case and has also been awarded costs against the company by the court, which ordered FCC to pay £2,193.

According to a spokesman for FCC, Mr. Myers has uncovered a ‘previously unknown historic routing guide error’, in force since the days of British Rail.

Roy Cooper, FCC’s fares and pricing manager, said he had asked the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) to close the loophole as ‘this could set a precedent and cause other similar claims’.

David Sidebottom, a director of the consumer watchdog Passenger Focus, said in the Telegraph: ‘We’re disappointed to see that in this case the company continued to resist making a speedy apology and provide recompense to the passenger, when internally it had already accepted it was wrong.’

An ATOC spokesman said: ‘This is an example of a very obscure error in a system that offers millions of tickets for travel between more than 2,500 stations. If other such errors are found, we will look to correct them to ensure that all passengers are treated fairly.’

Network Rail warned over delays, poor maintenance

The UK rail regulator has wanred Network Rail, the company responsible for maintaining the country’s track infrastructure, for failing to maintain the rail track infrastructure causing significant delays and inconvenience to passengers.

‘The company is falling short of expectations at the moment,’ said Richard Price, the chief executive of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). ‘It is facing many problems of its own making, having failed to deliver plans to renew Britain’s rail network, with delayed works now affecting performance,’ he added.

According to a report by The Telegraph, the ORR has also warned the rail company that it will be fined significantly if it does not improve upon its performance. The rail regulator has accused the company of negligence and failing to renew tracks, causing a seven per cent rise in incidents leading to delays and cancellations.

Rail minister Norman Baker reportedly said that he was ‘dismayed’ by Network Rail’s performance. ‘Fare payers and tax payers are investing heavily in the future of the railways and they need to have the confidence that Network Rail is maximising the impact every pound has,’ Baker said, adding that he will insist an improvement when he meets Sir David Higgins, the chief executive of Network Rail.

David Sidebottom, the director of the consumer regulator, Passenger Focus, commented: ‘Passengers are now the main funders of the railway, so it is even more crucial they can expect a reliable service. Network Rail needs to work hard to improve its performance and to rebuild trust within the industry and with the public.’

A total of 25,852 long distance trains were either more than half an hour late or cancelled completely in the first quarter of this year, compared with 21,960 last year. The percentage of trains which arrived on time also fell between April and July this year, compared with the same period 12 months ago.

‘Although we have been unable to reach these tough targets, today half a million more trains arrive at their destination on time compared with five years ago, carrying tens of millions more passengers. Train performance is still, by historical standards, at a high level – last year was the third best year ever recorded – but we know we can do better, especially on our long-distance routes,’ Network Rail said.

Air cheaper than rail on most popular long-distance routes

UK’s rail fares are far more expensive than air tickets, with travellers paying up to three times more to travel around Britain on trains than planes, according to research.

According to separate surveys by The Sun on Sunday and the MailOnline, advance airfares on Easyjet are cheaper than train prices on nine out of ten of the most popular long-distance routes between major cities, the only exception being London to Manchester.

Flying with EasyJet from Glasgow to Bristol on September 23 and returning one week later will cost £53, while the cheapest train ticket costs as much as £141. And for Bristol to Edinburgh and back on the same dates, an EasyJet flight currently costs just £62, compared to £149 for a return train ticket with CrossCountry. On the Bristol to Newcastle route, EasyJet flights costs £43 while rail charges are £124. The gap is much smaller for most other routes, although an exception is seen when travelling from London to Manchester, which is GBP26 on Virgin Trains but £111 by plane with Virgin Atlantic.

The routes with similar train and plane prices were London to Edinburgh, London to Inverness, London to Glasgow, Birmingham to Edinburgh, Birmingham to Glasgow and London to Paris.

The research comes as UK rail ticket prices are set to increase by up to £200 for an annual season ticket. It was announced last week that fares would rise by an average of 4.1 percent in January, far higher than any pay rise that the majority of workers can expect.

Over the past decade, the cost of many annual season tickets for workers who commute into London has risen by more than 50 percent.

Skyscanner spokesman, Mary Porter, told The Sun on Sunday: ‘Our research shows that more often than not, it’s cheaper to take a domestic flight than a train. There is now more competition in the skies, particularly with the recent launch of Virgin Atlantic’s Little Red, which is operating several domestic routes. More competition usually means better prices for flights.’

Virgin Trains to launch ‘high speed’ book signings

Virgin Trains is set to launch the UK’s first ever on board ‘high speed’ book signings on its West Coast route in autumn this year.

For the ‘High Speed Book Signings’, a host of celebrated authors have confirmed participation, including Scandi-crime writer, Jo Nesbo, the British writer, Joanna Trollope, who is launching The Austen Project with a reworking of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, and comedian and author, Ruby Wax.

All of the participating authors have either recently launched or will soon be launching their new books and will offer Virgin Trains’ passengers an exclusive opportunity to own a signed copy. The book signings will take place in Coach G, the First Class carriage closest to Standard Class. Travellers will be informed over the on-board announcement system and invited to buy a book before meeting the author for a personalised copy.

Commenting on the launch of the Book Singings programme, Jim Rowe, senior communications manager for Virgin Trains said, ‘Authors routinely travel the country to book signing sessions so we thought why not use the time travelling to sign some more. It is a fact: nowhere else will our authors sign books faster than on our Virgin high speed trains.’

Virgin Trains runs at a speed of up to 125mph between 45 West Coast stations from London Euston to Glasgow including Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. The authors will be travelling on various routes over the autumn months.

Effective from September 1, Virgin Trains Facebook page will provide passengers with details of when their favourite authors will be on board.

Virgin Trains is part of the Virgin Rail Group, which is owned jointly by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Management and Stagecoach Group plc, an international public transport group with operations in the UK, USA and Canada. The partnership claims to have transformed a struggling rail artery into the UK’s most used long-distance route. Running from London to major cities in England and through to Scotland, Virgin Trains now claims to provide a genuine alternative to the plane and the car.

Virgin tops rail passenger survey, but Euston is slated

Virgin Trains, a passenger train operator and part of the Virgin group of companies, has come top in a passenger satisfaction survey.

The Independent National Passenger Survey put Virgin ahead of other long-distance rail franchises with a satisfaction score of 92 percent. The company achieved this by scoring an above average percentage for all aspects of its train service, but only exceeded the average on one aspect of station satisfaction.

These figures highlighted the general dissatisfaction of passengers with facilities at London’s Euston station. Euston, which is managed by the UK’s rail infrastructure operator, Network Rail, is the main hub for Virgin’s West Coast Main Line franchise, and is considered to be in urgent need of an upgrade.

More than 60 percent of Virgin’s passengers transit through Euston, and the company wants to see significant improvements at the station to boost its own customer satisfaction figures still further. To this end, Virgin has opened discussions with Network Rail, as well as the management of the HS2 high-speed rail link, which will also use the station once the service is operational, and the British Government’s Department for Transport.

Commenting on the results, Virgin Trains chief executive officer, Tony Collins, said, ‘Once again our customers have applauded the service we provide, and I thank them for that. We’re pleased to have the highest satisfaction rating of any long-distance franchise. But when I look closely at the figures I’m worried because customers’ experience of using our trains is not matched by their experience of using the stations we serve.

‘We have made improvements at stations we operate, but a huge proportion of our customers use Euston, and it’s now time to improve the environment at the station. We’ve seen the dramatic effect on satisfaction scores that the upgrade at King’s Cross has had recently. We want some of that for our customers too – and they can’t wait till a new HS2 station is built.’

 

Race fans provided with extra trains for Royal Ascot

Extra trains are to be laid on for horseracing fans visiting the Royal Ascot event later this month.

The South West Trains – Network Rail Alliance, a train operating company owned by Stagecoach Group and operating the South Western rail franchise, has announced that it will run a special charter train on behalf of the racecourse to assist race goers in getting to the meeting.

The Royal Ascot meeting will take place between June 18 and June 22, and the specially chartered ‘Ascot Express’ will operate on each of those days, leaving London Waterloo railway station at 09.12 am for its non-stop run to Ascot. On arrival at Ascot station passengers will only be a short walk away from the racecourse.

The train company is also laying on extra scheduled capacity during the event.

The South West Trains – Network Rail Alliance customer service director, Jake Kelly, said, ‘We are pleased to be providing a dedicated morning service for race goers, on behalf of Ascot Racecourse. The ‘Ascot Express’ charter train will provide a new travel option to help people get to the racecourse in time for all the action. We will also run a strengthened South West Trains service with four trains an hour Tuesday to Friday and six trains per hour on Saturday during Royal Ascot week. Each year, Ascot station welcomes thousands of extra passengers during Royal Ascot. We will deploy four times our usual level of staffing at the station during the week to assist our passengers and help make it an enjoyable day out for all.’

Virgin Trains to expand Scotland-Birmingham service from December

Virgin Trains, the railway enterprise of Richard Branson’s Virgin Empire, is to substantially increase the number of seats that it offers between Scotland and Birmingham in a revamp of its schedules that come into force from this December.

A total of 3,300 additional seats per day will be made available by the changes, which will also see the service offered by 24 of the 28 Scottish trains that currently terminate in Birmingham extended to London Euston, via Coventry and Milton Keynes. In a move that is clearly designed to compete with domestic air travel, the new services will connect to international airports in Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the intention of providing more cost effective options for air travellers.

Much of the increased daily capacity will be due to the introduction of improved rolling stock, with the present five-car trains replaced by nine, ten and eleven-car models. The investment in improved capacity is justified by impressive growth figures during Virgin’s 16-year operation of the West Coast service, especially in recent years. Between 2008 and the present day, the Birmingham to Edinburgh service has seen 235 percent growth, the Glasgow to Birmingham service has seen 261 percent growth, and Glasgow to Euston has experienced 144 percent growth. By December this year, a total of 13,000 more seats will be available on these routes than was available in 2008, 30,000 instead of 17,000.

Virgin Trains’ chief operating officer, Chris Gibb, commented, ‘Our plans for December represent the latest phase in our development of services on the West Coast mainline, as we strive to make the most of this iconic route by providing more trains and more seats, seven days a week. The success of recent years shows the enduring popularity of the route, and the potential that remains.

‘We face intense competition from airlines, motorways and other train companies, and will continue to drive forward improvements to attract more customers and stay ahead of our competitors, as well as playing a key part in the economic and social development of the Midlands, North West England and Scotland.’

 

£40 million investment announced by UK’s South West Trains company

A £40 million investment is intended to enhance reliability still further at UK train operator, South West Trains.

The investment partnership includes South West Trains-Network Rail Alliance, Porterbrook and the Department for Transport.

The company’s train fleet is already claimed to be the most reliable in the UK, but upgrades to the Class 455 rolling stock that the money will help to pay for should further improve passengers’ travel experience. South West’s 91- train fleet will be fitted with new traction equipment to improve its operational efficiency on the Metro area, which includes London’s Waterloo station to Reading, the Hounslow loop and the Shepperton branch line.

The upgrade programme will take three years, during which the trains will be fitted with modern AC traction systems to replace the current DC versions. Once upgraded, the trains will benefit from regenerative braking with associated cost savings due to a return of 20 percent of traction electricity on inner suburban services, and approximately 10 percent on mainline services. The weight reduction provided by the new traction units is also expected to pay dividends, with a knock-on reduction in maintenance work and replacement of the rail infrastructure due to wear and tear.

Reduced servicing intervals for the new equipment will also mean that trains will spend more time in operation, thereby enhancing schedules and reducing pressure on the Wimbledon servicing depot.

The engineering director for the South West Trains – Network Rail Alliance, Christian Roth, said, ‘Our Class 455 trains are already by far the most reliable fleet in the country, however we are not complacent and we want to make sure these excellent results are sustained and improved even further. The new traction motors will help us to improve the reliability of these trains for our passengers at the same time as delivering environmental benefits through the reduced electricity supply.’

South West Trains will also be introducing 100 more carriages on its services over the next 20 months to provide daily capacity for an additional 23,000 peak-time passengers.