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.’