FOLLOWING the shock announcement Virgin Trains (VT) and its partner Stagecoach had been disqualified from bidding from the West Coast Partnership franchise and were likely to exit railways, VT has surprised everyone by announcing it will make a bid to become an open access operator.
Virgin has lodged an application with the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to introduce a new hourly service through most of the day between Liverpool and London from May 2021. The service, if approved, call at Lichfield, Tamworth, Nuneaton and Liverpool South Parkway.
VT claims the service will be the be the UK’s most advanced, and customer-focussed, train service with every ticket sold coming with a seat reservation. In addition, every ticket would be guaranteed to be at least 10% cheaper than equivalent tickets offered by rail competitors.
The service would be the only rail service in the UK to guarantee no overcrowding in normal operations. If there was disruption on the rail network and services were busier than normal, any passengers who couldn’t get a seat would get a full refund of their ticket.
Customers would also benefit from free Wi-Fi on all services, as well as free films and TV on board and an ‘at-seat’, on-demand catering service. If trains were delayed, every passenger would get automatic ‘delay repay’ compensation without having to lodge a claim.
Phil Whittingham, Virgin Trains MD, said, “Virgin Trains has led the UK rail industry for twenty-two years. We’ve delivered faster and more frequent services, pioneered digital ticketing and shaken up the industry with initiatives such as scrapping the Friday evening peak. That’s why we top the independent customer satisfaction charts for long-distance franchises.
“But we want to go further. These new services will allow us to take the customer experience on the UK’s railways to the next level and show the rest of the industry how it can be done.”
The application to the rail regulator bids for 24 services per day between London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street. It is expected these services would also call at Lichfield, Tamworth, Nuneaton and Liverpool South Parkway.
This initiative is separate to Virgin Trains’ current West Coast operation. It is expected the new services will generate around £50m of revenue each year, and the partnership will involve Virgin, Stagecoach, SNCF and Alstom. Rolling stock could be displaced Class 91 and Mk 4 sets from the East Coast Main Line which have just started to be placed in store as the Hitachi Azumas are introduced. The Pendolino sets are expected to remain with the West Coast Partnership franchise.