The hard-pressed commuter is set to benefit from thousands more standard class seats in a deal struck between Virgin Trains and the Department for Transport.Advertisement
Virgin, who manage Preston station, have been awarded an eight-month franchise extension from April 2012, ending uncertainty over the ownership of the line during next summer’s London Olympics, however, the news has dismayed a leading transport lobby group.
Campaign for Better Transport said the franchise should have been terminated rather than extended but they acknowledged the demand for more affordable seats.
Despite the criticism, under the terms of the new arrangement, Virgin will add two-cars to 31 of their current 52 nine-car ‘tilting’ Pendolino fleet while commissioning another four 11-car Class 390s, one of which is currently in service shortened.
Around 28,000 more seats – 150 extra per extended train – become available on the West Coast Main Line every day, however, Preston’s seat windfall is to be decided, although it could be significant thanks to the popularity of the London- Glasgow route.
Tony Collins, Virgin Rail Group CEO, said: “We are delighted to have worked in partnership with Government to agree this extension to the current West Coast franchise. It is great news for passengers and will also deliver value for money to taxpayers.
“Virgin Trains is delivering industry-leading levels of customer satisfaction and annual passenger numbers have grown from 14 million to around 30 million in just seven years.
“This reflects the high quality of service and investment in new trains and improved infrastructure, which has hugely benefited customers using the backbone of the UK rail network.”
Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Aidan Turner-Bishop rejected the comments of Virgin Trains boss Tony Collins.
He said: “I can understand why the DfT is anxious to introduce longer Pendolino trains on the West Coast Main Line before the franchise is reviewed but this prolongs Virgin’s and Stagecoach’s anti-competitive, taxpayer-subsidised, monopoly on the West Coast Main Line.
“Longer trains may mean more capacity but it also means the continuation of the inefficient DfT’s Business Case policies which cause many empty first class carriages shuttling fresh air up and down while standard passengers endure crowded and often expensive conditions.
“Roll on the franchise review, the end of anti-competitive restrictions and taxpayer-subsidised inefficiency, and, I hope, some fresh thinking on the West Coast Main Line.
Virgin Trains have made the final franchise shortlist, due to be awarded next summer. It is expected to be the first to incorporate recommendations from the McNulty Review delivered earlier this spring.
The current Intercity West Coast franchise will terminate on December 8 next year.
What do you think? Is this good news for passenger? Will this make your journey better with more chances to get a seat? Or is the deal too little, too late?