Eurostar adds more high-speed services to Europe

Eurostar, the high-speed rail link between the UK and mainland Europe, announced on Thursday August 19 that it is adding more trains between the UK and the continent in response to growing demand following the removal of quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers from France to the UK and the easing of restrictions for travel to Belgium and the Netherlands.

During August, Eurostar has seen double the amount of bookings, and has added 39 trains for travel between the UK and the continent this month alone. The busiest days for travel are between August 27 and 30, with Paris the most popular destination from the UK.

Since the easing of travel restrictions by the UK government in August, the high-speed rail operator has seen the gradual return of the weekend break, with a 105 percent rise in August and September weekend trips between London and Paris, compared to the same period last year and 83 percent of bookings attributed to leisure travel or visiting friends and family.

From September 6 until November 1, eight daily return services will operate, with five in each direction on the London to Paris route and three in each direction between London and Brussels, with one each way extended to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The expanded timetable is claimed to offer improved flexibility to both business and leisure travellers with fares from GBP39 each way.

The company says that travellers can book with confidence knowing that all tickets are flexible with no exchange fee up to 7 days before departure, offering peace of mind should travel restrictions or plans change. Eurostar adds that it has introduced new measures to keep passengers safe, with trains deep cleaned before every journey, and cleaning teams on board to regularly disinfect high contact areas. All travellers must wear a mask on board and in stations, this continues to apply after check-in at London St Pancras.

Eurostar claims to offer the most environmentally friendly choice for travel to Europe, with each journey using up to 93 percent less CO2 than the equivalent flight.

Arriva offers affordable rail travel to passengers to and from Manchester Airport

Arriva Group train operators, CrossCountry and Northern, have announced plans to expand their range of mobile tickets (m-Tickets) and travel options to passengers travelling to and from Manchester Airport.

Effective from September 3, a full range of connectional Advance Tickets will be available direct to Manchester Airport, with connections at Manchester Piccadilly using Northern services. The new fares offer customers a cheaper way to plan their journeys to and from the airport, using m-Tickets bought on their phone. With the new -ticket facility, customers will also not have to queue for tickets at the station.

Liam Sumpter, Regional Director at Northern, said: ‘The new m-Tickets are a fantastic way for customers to save time and money on their journeys to and from Manchester Airport. As well as providing cheap advance fares, they will help customers plan their journeys better, with the added benefit of having tickets on customers’ mobile phones. We are delighted to be working with CrossCountry on this initiative to help make travelling and buying tickets easier for customers.’

Ben Simkin, Commercial Director at CrossCountry, said: ‘We are delighted to be able to provide customers travelling to and from Manchester Airport with easier and cheaper travel. The new m-Tickets mean customers will no longer need to queue at ticket machines and will also offer a new range of Advance fares that are available to and from the airport to a wide range of destinations along our route.’

Britain’s most geographical-extensive passenger rail franchise, CrossCountry’s network stretches from Aberdeen to Penzance and from Stansted to Cardiff, and calls at over 100 stations. Arriva Rail North Limited operates the Northern franchise and will run regional and commuter services across the region until March 2025.

Crossrail in legal wrangle over Heathrow stop

A legal row between the developers of London’s £15 billion Crossrail underground railway project and the operators of Heathrow Airport could result in trains not stopping at the nation’s busiest airport.

Currently, Heathrow Express trains run on 5 miles of track that the airport laid at a cost of £1 billion. Crossrails’ arrival means that that service will no longer be viable. The Times has reported that because of this, the airport’s investment fund owners are looking to recoup their investment by charging £570 for every Crossrail train that uses the track, in addition to standing fees of around £107 per train.

According to transport officials and the rail watchdog, such charges have no justification and they fear that their imposition would cost Crossrail £42 million per year and result in higher ticket charges. A decision on the wrangle is now with a High Court judge whose judgement is expected imminently.

If the decision goes against Crossrail, Transport for London have drawn up contingency plans to terminate the trains a few miles short of the airport, forcing travellers to change to alternative trains but meaning that Crossrail would avoid paying the fees. In fact, Crossrail is already believed to have earmarked a location somewhere near the airport where the trains could be turned around for the return journey or continue travelling west.

Heathrow told the Times: ‘We need to ensure that track access charges are fair, and are waiting on a ruling from the courts.’

Crossrail is expected to be ready to operate by December 2019.


Passengers unhappy with Britain’s train service, survey

More than half of Britain’s rail companies have been rated poor in customer satisfaction, according to an annual survey carried out by Which? magazine.

According to the annual survey to identify Britain’s best and worst trains, 11 of 19 companies operating the country’ trains received overall satisfaction scores lower than 50 per cent. In comparison, last year only nine firms scored lower than 50 per cent overall.

The worst reported were Greater Anglia and Southeastern, scoring just 40 per cent overall, while First Capital Connect, which connects London to Brighton and Cambridge, scored 41 per cent.

Overall one in ten of the 7,400 passengers questioned said they had reason to complain about their last rail journey, with complaints ranging from frequent delays, overcrowded carriages and malfunctioning lavatories. One in five of all passengers, including a quarter of all commuters, have experienced a delay; one in five commuters has had to stand through their last journey, while one in ten complained over defective lavatories – rising to 20 per cent for London Midland trains, 19 per cent for Southeastern and 17 per cent on First Capital Connect.

Merseyrail was rated the best operator, with a 70 per cent rating – the highest total seen during the three years, the survey found. Chiltern Railway, C2C and Virgin Trains were the only other companies to score more than 60 per cent overall.

C2C, which operates from London to Southend, was the highest scoring commuter service, scoring 66 per cent among business passengers, including top marks for punctuality.

Grand Central was rated the best long distance service, scoring 73 per cent among leisure passengers – who approved its spacious carriages and superior service. First Great Western was the lowest scorer in this category with 49 per cent, including poor marks for punctuality.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: ‘It’s disappointing to see some train companies consistently falling down on the basics of consumer service, with dirty and overcrowded carriages and toilets that don’t work.

‘Seven rail franchises end in the next two years and we want to see passenger’s experiences put right at the heart of the tender process so companies respond to consumer expectations and can be held to account if they don’t.’

On aspects that could improve their journeys, one in five passengers called for better punctuality, rising to three in ten among commuters. More than half of all travellers said they would be willing to pay more for an improvement in standards. One in five wanted free Wi-Fi.

A First Capital Connect spokesman said: ‘We are disappointed, especially after the far larger National Passenger Survey showed overall satisfaction scores of 79 per cent, but we listen to all feedback and are taking steps to deliver what passengers want.’


Virgin accuses Network Rail of breach of contract

Virgin Rail, the train-operating arm of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group of companies, is demanding that Network Rail, the authority that is responsible for the UK’s rail network, carry out millions of pounds worth of improvements to its infrastructure.

Virgin says that the customer-focussed improvements should be carried out in order to compensate passengers for Network Rail’s recent poor punctuality performance. Virgin Trains owner, VRG, intends to enforce improvements in punctuality, as it believes that Network Rail’s current inadequate performance is tantamount to a breach of contract and is bad for business.

Virgin’s stance follows criticism levelled at Network Rail by the Office of Rail Regulation, which could levy fines of up to £75 million on the rail operator for failing to hit punctuality targets on long distance routes, such as Virgin’s. Virgin, however, would prefer to see that money used for punctuality improvements, rather than being paid in fines to the UK’s Treasury.

VRG’s chief executive, Tony Collins, said, ‘Network Rail has consistently failed to deliver what it is contracted to deliver. That has directly affected customers’ experience, and their impression of rail travel. So any penalties levied on Network Rail should be in the form of tangible improvements that customers benefit from. There is really no benefit to Network Rail, customers or VRG in having money leave the industry.’

Of the delays experienced by Virgin Trains, more than 70 percent are due to problems with Network Rail’s infrastructure, and just 15 percent are attributable to Virgin Rail.

Over the last two years, Virgin Rail has failed to meet most of the targets that had been set for it by the Office of Rail Regulation.

Network Rail falls short on punctuality

Network Rail, the authority responsible for the operation of the UK’s rail network, missed all of its punctuality targets for the last 12 months in England and Wales, according to figures issued by the UK government’s rail regulator.

Due to its shortcomings (or should that be late-comings?) Network Rail could now face government-imposed penalties of as much as £75 million for its performance up until year end March 31, 2013. Official figures from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) showed a decline in train punctuality of 0.7 percent on the previous year, to 90.9 percent from 91.6 percent.

The ORR had set a target of 92.7 percent for London and the southeast, which Network Rail missed by 1.7 percent. Long distance services fared even worse, with regions including Virgin’s West Coast Mainline, falling 4.5 percent short of the regulator’s 87 percent target.

Commenting for Virgin Rail Group, its chief executive, Tony Collins, said, ‘Network Rail has consistently failed to deliver what it is contracted to deliver. That has directly affected customers’ experience, and their impression of rail travel. So any penalties levied on Network Rail should be in the form of tangible improvements that customers benefit from. There is really no benefit to Network Rail, customers or VRG in having money leave the industry.’

Virgin rail added that 70 percent of delays were the result of issues with infrastructure, which were Network Rail’s responsibility.

In its defence, Network Rail said that it had spent £5 billion on renewal and extension of the UK’s rail network in 2012/13. Patrick Butcher, its Group finance director, said, ‘The challenge we have faced over the last year, and will continue to face in the years ahead, is one of success – more people wanting to use more trains, more of the time. Over the last 12 months we have invested an unprecedented amount in growing and expanding the rail network through over 2,000 projects nationwide.

‘However, the economic times in which we live mean that alongside delivering new capacity we need to keep a constant drive for improved efficiency. Our overall financial performance remains strong and we are on track to deliver over £5bn of cost savings for the five years to 2014.’

Passenger implications for latest stage of London Bridge station redevelopment

Passengers using London Bridge station will experience changes from later this month due to the first major stage of redevelopment work.

Southern services that use platforms 8 to 16 will be affected by platform closure from the latter part of the May bank holiday, as work starts on platforms 14 to 16. No Southern train services will call at the station between Saturday May 25 and Monday May 27, while some will be diverted to Victoria.

Three platforms at the station – 14, 15 and 16 – will be taken out of use from May 28 until spring of 2014 due to the redevelopment. This will also involve the narrowing of platform 13, from where there will be no access to the footbridge.

The redevelopment work is ultimately intended to increase the station’s capacity by altering the platform arrangement. By 2018, the current six through and nine terminating platforms will have been changed to nine through and six terminating platforms. The change is also intended to reduce trains’ waiting time for available platforms.

From today until Wednesday May 29, an exhibit located on the concourse opposite the entrance to platforms 12 to 14 will be open to commuters at the station between the hours of 7am and 7pm. Station staff will be available there to answer queries regarding the project.

Three train operators that use London Bridge station, First Capital Connect, Southeastern and Southern, issued a joint statement, saying, ‘We are working together, and with Network Rail, so passengers are kept informed of the work at London Bridge station. We will ensure our customers are aware of the changes that affect them and what the various journey options are.

‘Our station exhibition is just one example of how we are talking with our customers. We’ve created a programme website, where customers can keep up to date with the Thameslink programme and sign up for email alerts about changes that matter to them.’

Over the coming months, there are likely to be frequent changes to services using the station as the work progresses.

Cash-strapped Britain flocks to first class rail travel

The UK might be continuing to walk a tightrope of recession, and each day the news reports the latest privations and cutbacks that are being imposed on the nation, but first class rail travel has never been so popular.

The latest report from the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), which has compiled the figures for all of the UK’s regional operators into one total, reveals that more than 11 million first class or equivalent tickets were sold last year. That means that the luxury compartments are even more popular now than they were decades ago when rail was a far more prominent part of everyday travel.

However, according to the ATOC, the profile of the typical first class traveller has changed. With the recession having put paid to the bottomless expense accounts of travelling executives, the new luxury travellers include young Saturday night revellers on inter-city club visits, hen or stag parties making the same trip, and football fans wanting a little more comfort on away days.

A major contributory factor to the shift in first class rail usage has been a rationalisation of cost and the availability of special offers. By booking well in advance, a one-way, first class ticket from Manchester to London can be bought for under £40. Weekend and evening offers can see upgrades to first class costing as little as a £5 surcharge.

In the 10 years that the ATOC has been compiling ticket sales information, first class sales have risen to last year’s high from just over 6.5 million in 2003.

ATOC chief executive, Michael Roberts, was quoted in the Daily Mail, saying, ‘Train companies have responded to the tough economic climate by offering a range of deals and investing in improved services to encourage more passengers to travel first class.

It is exactly this kind of commercial approach by operators that helps to explain why travelling by train has become more popular over a double dip recession, generating revenue to pay for services and sustaining government investment.’

Network Rail to Support Crossrail 2 Project

Crossrail 2, a new cross-London railway project, has received support from Network Rail, the company that operates the railway network in the UK.

The new Crossrail 2 line is intended to reduce traffic congestion by offering extra capacity for passengers travelling on the Underground and national rail networks. The new rail line is expected to offer suburban and regional services between parts of Middlesex and Surrey in the southwest, and Hertfordshire in the northeast of the region, using a new central tunnel between Wimbledon and Tottenham.

The new line has been recommended by a recent report submitted by London First’s Crossrail taskforce, under the leadership of former transport secretary, Lord Adonis.

The report states that, ‘a new south-west to north-east (SW-NE) rail line, Crossrail 2, should be built to provide suburban and regional services between Hertfordshire and parts of Surrey and Middlesex, via a new central tunnel between Tottenham and Wimbledon.

The main rationale for this is that rapid population and central London employment growth will require the provision of significant additional capacity on London’s transport networks from the mid 2020s onwards. Over the next 20 years, employment in London – mostly in central London – is projected to rise by 700,000 and the capital’s population is expected to rise by 1.5 million to almost 10 million, its highest level ever.’

David Higgins, the chief executive officer of Network Rail, said, ‘If the capital’s economy is to continue to thrive then we must plan now, together, for the transport infrastructure requirements of London’s future.

Our projections show that by 2031 we will need to accommodate 36 percent more commuters into London each day. Network Rail is already delivering the biggest capacity improvement programme since the Victorian era, but even that will not be enough on some routes.

A regional Crossrail 2 scheme will provide the capacity we need to provide for the commuters of the future, providing extra capacity to and through central London and easing overcrowding on the already congested routes into Waterloo and Liverpool Street.’

East Coast Trains Announces Low Fares between London and Edinburgh

East Coast Trains, a UK based train service, has announced a low fare for Scottish Executive class tickets between Edinburgh and London.

The new fares will cost £99 return, compared to the £199 return on normal prices, and they are effective from February 3, until March 4, 2013.

The offer is only available through travel management companies, and is booked in standard class but is automatically upgraded to first class. The normal return first class fare is around £416. The tickets are inclusive of complimentary in-seat meals in first class, and free Wi-Fi.

An East Coast spokesman said, ‘We are already seeing modal shift by business travellers from air to rail, and we are steadily gaining share on Edinburgh-London.

The latest National Passenger Survey by transport watchdog Passenger Focus shows we have achieved 92 percent overall satisfaction, the highest score on East Coast since the survey was launched back in 1999.’

With the new fare, the rail company is targeting airline passengers on the route between the two cities, the numbers of which have already decreased by 2 percent from the traffic in the same period last year.

In the National Passenger Survey, conducted recently by independent transport regulator, Passenger Focus, the company recorded a 92 percent overall satisfaction rating.

The company managing director, Karen Boswell, said, ‘We are naturally delighted to have reached such a high overall satisfaction rating with our services.

We want to say thank you to our customers for responding so positively to the many improvements we’ve already made. Our clear message to them and everyone who travels with us is that this is only the beginning.

The improvements to our stations, particularly at London King’s Cross, have contributed to this impressive vote of confidence in our railway. We still have much more to do, particularly on the punctuality and reliability of our services: recently, we’ve seen severe weather causing problems with Network Rail’s infrastructure – track, signals and overhead power lines.

When our train service performs reliably, as we saw during the period this survey was carried out, customers rate us more positively. We’re working hard with Network Rail to secure sustained improvements – while our own engineering teams are constantly striving to deliver the most reliable service possible with our existing train fleet.’