A Message to the DfT: Keep Virgin Trains on the West Coast Mainline!

I don’t usually blog about news and current affairs on this site, and until today I have never signed an e-petition before. But today I felt compelled to do so.

As a full-time travel blogger I use Virgin Trains on a regular basis. I’m from Manchester, but I often have to get to London to catch flights or attend conferences and business meetings. When I do, I take the direct train from Manchester to London. In the 15 years since Virgin was awarded the West Coast Mainline franchise, I’ve seen a complete transformation of the rail service.

Thanks to Virgin, it only takes me 2 hours to get from Manchester to London, and their service is impeccable. Whenever I’ve had to catch a train, it has been on time. If I book in advance I always manage to find great fares, and even if I have to book last minute, I usually find something on their Best Fare Finder.

I have always said they have completely changed train travel in Britain.

When I was traveling around the USA this summer, I was chatting to a friend about the poor public transport network for getting from state to state, and I said “Forget Amtrak. They need to get Virgin trains to set up a rail network in the USA.”

That’s how much I like them.

So when I received an email in my inbox today to say the Virgin Trains had lost the franchise for the West Coast Mainline, and that the government had awarded it to FirstGroup, I felt really sad about it. I don’t want to see Virgin go.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the bids and the decision, but here are some news articles about it:

The Guardian- Virgin Trains loses west coast mainline franchise to FirstGroup.

BBC News- Virgin’s Branson ‘disappointed’ over West Coast Mainline.

Petition Calls for Virgin to keep West Coast Mainline route.

And this was Sir Richard Branson’s response.

Sometimes, it’s about this:

Love

And not about awarding the franchise to the highest bidder.

While FirstGroup has promised improvements, the question is, have they bid an unrealistic amount? Is it financially sustainable and can they deliver what they’ve promised? There have been several instances where the government has awarded franchises to companies who have placed agressive bids, but down the line they have run into financial difficulties and had to walk away.

I think this time the government and the Department of Transport really underestimated the power of a brand and how many people love Virgin. No company is perfect, but Virgin is a company that cares and listens to people. That’s what the government should be doing.

I’m already a big admirer of Sir Richard Branson- he’s a dreamer and aims to turns those dreams into reality, so I have faith in him. And I admire that he didn’t overbid just to win the franchise:

“To have bid more would have involved dramatic cuts to customer quality and considerable fare rises which we were unwilling to entertain.

We also did not want to risk letting everybody down with almost certain bankruptcy at some time during the franchise as happened to GNER and National Express who overbid on the East Coast mainline. Sadly the Government has chosen to take that risk with FirstGroup and we only hope they will continue to drive dramatic improvements on this line for years to come without letting everybody down.”

There’s still time to change it. If you feel the same way, sign the independent e-petition.

Here’s what the e-petition says:

The West Coast Mainline’s current value is thanks to millions of pounds of investment and commitment from Virgin Trains – they’re not perfect, none are – but they have delivered a reliable service for 15 years and turned the line around. FirstGroup consistently rate amongst the worst of the train operators in passenger satisfaction surveys – they should show improvements in their existing services before being able to bid on more. Any previous time Virgin have lost a bid in a rail tender the winner has failed to deliver promised plan and revenue – the East Coast is still under Government ownership. The Government should look at more than the highest bidder – look what happened with G4S at London 2012.

If there are 100,000 signatures by 28th August, the government will hopefully be forced to reconsider the West Coast mainline franchise decision. At the time of writing there are 20,670 signatures, so there is time! Social media and the Internet are a powerful thing- YOU get to have a say!

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2 Responses to A Message to the DfT: Keep Virgin Trains on the West Coast Mainline!

  1. Lindsey August 21, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

    I caught a couple of Virgin trains when I was in England last year, and I have to say I was always impressed by their service! Especially compared to Aussie trains….

  2. dave August 22, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Sadly as with most things, it all comes down to money. The customer always comes second and suffers as a result. Based on FirstGroup’s track record and current profit margins, I see this being a mess.

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