New Rail Link Connects European Travellers to Costa Brava in Spain

UK travellers and golf enthusiasts keen to improve their game at one of the best golf courses in Spain, will now be able to reach the golfing destinations of the Costa Brava with a new high speed train link.

The newly introduced rail link between Barcelona and Figueres covers a total length of 131km, and has commenced commercial operation from January 9, this year. The entire route between Madrid, Barcelona and the French border will form a new rail transport link between Spain and rest of the Europe.

The new line, which saw the Perpignan-Figueres section inaugurated in late 2010, has now been extended to Girona and Barcelona, enabling visitors from across Continental Europe to play some of Spain’s top ranked golf courses on the Costa Brava.

The latest 131km branch between Figueres – home to Dali’s Theatre-Museum – and the metropolitan city of Barcelona, completes the 804km high-speed line between Madrid and the French boarder. It also leaves Spain second only to China in the size of its high-speed rail network, with 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) in service.

Ramon Ramos, the director of the Costa Brava Girona Tourist Board, said, ‘The new high-speed train line opens up many opportunities for Franco-Spanish tourism and enables visitors from across Europe to experience the Costa Brava, its famous gastronomy and cultural heritage, as well as its quality golf courses.

It used to take two hours to travel by train from Barcelona to Figueres. But now, with the new link, the trip’s only 53 minutes long. To get to Girona it’s just 37 minutes and if you’re planning a trip to Madrid you can be there in 3houres 32 minutes.

The new branch most definitely enhances the ‘pull’ of Costa Brava as an important European golfing destination – and we look forward to welcoming even more visitors to Spain’s rugged coast this year, and in the years to come.’

The new high-speed rail network complements the region’s air routes, from Girona-Costa Brava and Barcelona International airports, as well as its motorway network into France.

First Group Acquires Extension to Scot Rail Franchise

First Group, a Scotland based transport company, has been awarded an extension to operate the franchise for Scot Rail until 2015.

The earlier franchise is due to expire on November 9, 2014, and the Scottish government has now granted an extension until March 31, 2015.

The company has been operating Scot Rail since October 2004, and has reported that around 81 million passengers travel on the network every year.

The company chief executive officer, Tim O’Toole, said, ‘We are delighted that the Scottish Government has announced that the ScotRail franchise will continue until March 2015. Everyone at ScotRail has worked tirelessly to deliver excellent service and improvements for customers.

This is an exciting time for the railway in Scotland with new trains, stations and routes introduced since the start of the franchise. Our increasing number of passengers will see additional benefits up to and beyond Scotland’s important year of 2014.

Passenger numbers have reached historic highs with more than 81m people choosing to travel with ScotRail during 2011/12, representing an increase of 30 percent since the start of the franchise in 2004. We have also delivered significant improvements in punctuality and reliability which now stands at 92.3 percent compared to 83 percent when we took over the franchise.’

Scot Rail has launched its new schedule, effective from December 9, 2012, which will include more Sunday trains between Edinburgh, Glasgow and Ayr; faster trains on routes connecting Ayrshire and Inverclyde; a new Sunday service between Glasgow Central and Edinburgh through Shotts; more weekdays stops at Portlethen, Laurencekirk, Broughty Ferry and Invergowrie; new early-morning weekday service from Motherwell to Edinburgh, and a late evening return on the same route; and a new weekday service between Glasgow Central and Edinburgh.

Deutsche Bahn to Delay London Service

Deutsche Bahn, the German national rail operator, will not be able to operate its train route between Germany and London St Pancras before 2016, according to a recent report.

The report by Spiegel Online suggests that the rail company is having technical issues with train constructor, Siemens, and may not be able to take delivery of the new high-speed ICE trains ordered in 2008. Deutsche Bahn also expects its existing services to be impacted in the winter, when the lack of new trains to replace those in for repair is likely to lengthen delays and cancellations.

Berthold Huber, the head of the German rail company, said, ‘Our customers feel as though they have been left in the lurch by Siemens. We had fully expected to have the new trains in reserve this winter to compensate for cancellations as a result of extreme weather.

You must remember that we ordered the trains in December 2008 and delivery was originally promised for last December.’

In October 2010, Deutsche Bahn, announced its high speed ICE (InterCity Express) train at St Pancras, and a scheduled service of three return journeys between Frankfurt and London, through Cologne, Brussels and Lille.

The journey time from London to Cologne was expected to take less than four hours, and around five hours for the journey from London to Frankfurt. Travel from Amsterdam to London was expected to take less than four hours on the new trains.

Deutsche Bahn has ordered 15 of the ICE trains from Siemens, which will have a maximum speed of 320kph (200mph), and will cost a total of €500 million.

However, delays to the project have resulted in disappointment for many. Michael Birtles, the managing director of European Rail, said, ‘The news has come as a disappointment. We thought the arrival of ICE in London would mean we would be offering our business customers a really competitive product between London, Cologne and Frankfurt.’

Coach Travel an Alternative to UK Christmas Train Disruption

National Express, a UK based road transport company, is laying on a number of extra coaches to cope with an expected Christmas rush.

The train operator is offering around 10,000 extra seats on December 23 and 24, 2012, for those travellers that might be inconvenienced by delays caused by maintenance work on the West Coast Main Line rail service.

For the two days before Christmas, rail passengers could suffer disruption due to their being no direct train services between London and Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow. Passengers who have already booked confirmed tickets on these train routes might opt for a cancellation, or opt to travel by National Express coaches with guaranteed reservations for the said dates.

The maintenance work will impact on services from Euston to Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow, with no traffic on these routes. Services will resume on December 27, 2012, while two of the four lines will remain closed.

Robin Gisby, the Network Rail network operations managing director, said, ‘Services on the West Coast on December 23 and 24 will be severely affected.

We understand and regret the impact this will have on passengers and freight services, but believe it is necessary to achieve the long-term benefits.’

Chris Gibb, the chief operating officer of Virgin Trains, said, ‘We are working hard with industry colleagues to ensure customers have as much advance information as possible, irrespective of who will actually be running long distance services on the West Coast Main Line by this time.’

Irish Rail Announces Increase in Fares from December 2012

Iarnrod Eireann, the Irish national rail company, has announced new fares from December 1, 2012.

The National Transport Authority has announced an increase in single and return fares, complimenting the earlier increase in monthly and annual season ticket fares. Iarnrod Eireann is implementing its fare increases from December 1, 2012, with the monthly season ticket fare increases to be implemented from January 1, 2013.

The single, return and season tickets for adults, children and students will rise by an average of 3 percent for intercity and long-distance journeys of 41km and more, and by 10 percent for Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) and short-distance journeys.

A report published by the National Transport Authority, said, ‘Public transport fare increases have been deemed to be necessary in recent years as the operators have sought to compensate for reduced PSO payments, declining numbers of passengers due to the economic situation and reduced ancillary revenues.

Cost reduction programmes have been put in place by the operators, but these take time to design and implement, and costs have not fallen to the same extent as the revenue base. Cost reduction has also been hindered by the significant increase in fuel costs, which are largely outside the operators’ control. The result has been that increases in fares have been counter to, or in excess of, inflation and economic growth.’

Iarnrod Eireann, said in a statement, ‘Iarnrod Eireann will continue to provide a range of heavily discounted online fares through significantly below these regulated fares, as well as student, family fare and other promotions throughout the year. Furthermore, commuters who purchase monthly or annual season tickets through their employer via the Taxsaver scheme receive tax relief of up to 52 percent on the cost of their season tickets.’

London to Edinburgh cheaper by rail than air?

Taking the train service from London to Edinburgh may be more cost effective than taking a flight, according to a recent report submitted by sustainable transport group, Transform Scotland.

The report, named ‘On track for business: Why Scottish businesses should try the train’, states that train tickets between Edinburgh and London are around 81 percent cheaper than flights, and hence provide a very cost-effective travel option for commuters.

Transform Scotland has also reported that travelling by rail between the two cities is a better option for business travellers, as it provides a better working environment and is better for the environment.

At present, rail only has a 12 percent share of the business travel market between London and Edinburgh.

Colin Howden, the director of Transform Scotland, said, ‘The financial benefit of making an Edinburgh-London return journey amounts to £217, including the value of productive working time and other benefits.

Given that the price of a ‘Scottish Executive’ ticket, which gives first class return travel from Edinburgh and London, is only £229, it’s clear that greater account needs to be taken of the financial benefits of rail travel and not just the ticket price.

Our report makes a compelling case to Scottish business of the financial and productivity benefits of using the train for business travel to and from London.

Our challenge to Scottish business is to try the train. Given that it’s generally cheaper and provides a productive working environment, Scottish businesses can gain financially by switching many more of their employees’ trips on to rail for Edinburgh to London journeys.’

The report says that some Scotland based corporate companies, such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Scottish and Southern Energy, are now encouraging their employees to use trains when travelling between the two cities.

The author of the report, David Spaven, said, ‘The train beats flying for business travel to London. It offers a high-quality working environment, superior environmental performance and, crucially, better value for money. Unless a company’s sole criterion for choice of transport is journey time, air shouldn’t be treated as an automatic preference over rail.

East Coast has introduced a wide range of major service improvements in the last few years, yet rail is carrying only 12 per cent of Edinburgh-London business travel. The time is clearly right for many more businesses to ‘try the train’ and experience directly the benefits which rail can deliver.’

More Trains and Facilities for UK Passengers

Virgin Trains, a UK-based train company, has announced extra seats on trains travelling to Glasgow, in Scotland, with the addition of new services.

The company proposes to add around 1,750 seats daily to its existing schedule of trains, with the addition of two extra services to Glasgow, on the West Coast Main Line. The new schedule, once implemented, will operate a train every hour to Glasgow, from London. The route will also include Carlisle and Penrith North Lakes stations.

Karen Hattie, the general manager for Virgin Trains in Scotland and Cumbria, said, ‘Overall passenger numbers have more than doubled on our routes. Demand for travel between Glasgow, Cumbria and London has grown steadily since the last big timetable improvement in 2008-9. The extra capacity from December will provide a great opportunity for even more passengers to enjoy the service.’

The new total of 15 Pendolino tilting trains travelling each way daily will see double the number of weekday services offered between Glasgow Central and London Euston, since 1997.

The stations of Carlisle, Seascale, and Dalton, will also be benefiting from access humps for passengers who have difficulty getting off trains at platforms that are too low for them to negotiate. Developed by Network Rail, the company that operates the UK’s railway network, the new humps will function as a raised section of the platform, located close to the disabled access doors on the trains.

Stuart Middleton, the general manager of Lancashire and Cumbria, for Network Rail, said, ‘The easier access areas were developed directly from Cumbria’s pioneering scheme at Harrington station. They have been introduced at numerous stations in England and Wales and we hope they will be equally well received at the latest stations.’

UK Train Travellers Spend Excessive Time Searching for Tickets

While travellers are increasingly using mobile apps for almost all phases of their travel, rail travellers are claimed to be travelling in constant fear of losing their tickets.

Dubbing British rail users, ‘a nation of pocket patting train travellers’, a new survey conducted by CrossCountry Trains, a UK based search engine for cheap train tickets, has reported that large numbers of rail travellers are still wasting man hours while patting their pockets to ensure that they are carrying their tickets during the journey.

A poll of 2,000 rail users has reported that around 24 hours are wasted every year by a frequent travellers on local trains, while they pat their pockets and peek in purses, at an average of three times before each train journey.

The research has highlighted that passengers travelling by train need to accept technology and make it part of their lives in order to suffer less stress while travelling.

The company, which has recently launched its complimentary Train Tickets app, offer an electronic rail ticket for commuters, as well as including real time departure and journey information.

Andy Cooper, the managing director at CrossCountry, said, ‘The ‘Train Tickets’ app will help to transform the process of travelling by train. Access to live departure boards, and an intuitive user interface making it quicker and easier to buy cheaper Advance fares, gives the consumer full control over their journey.

The innovative approach to m-tickets taken by CrossCountry has made it possible to deliver a simple and secure mobile ticketing solution for customers that will help transform the experience of buying rail tickets.’

Leicester Station Opens for Passengers after Renovation

Leicester railway station in the UK has recently opened after completing facility improvements that were jointly carried out by Network Rail, a company that operates the railway network in the UK, and East Midlands Trains, a UK-based train operator.

The redevelopment project, worth around £6 million, included an enhanced station entrance area with an open-plan retail space, a revamped ticket office, updated signage, a new information kiosk, a renovated concourse, renovated station platforms, and remodelled public spaces and restrooms.

Martin Frobisher, the Network Rail route managing director for the East Midlands, said, ‘The work has made the station more accessible, attractive and welcoming for visitors and locals alike.

Leicester station is the gateway to the city. The station now looks and feels like a modern station and has radically improved the customer experience.’

David Horne, the managing director for East Midlands Trains, said, ‘The completion of the improvement scheme at Leicester will deliver some real benefits for our passengers. We’re very pleased to have played our part in such a successful station redevelopment scheme and are certain that travellers will enjoy using the new-look Leicester station.

We’re in the process of investing around £10 million to improve the stations on our network, and as such an important transport hub, it’s vital that Leicester offers a fitting gateway to the City. We would like to thank our passengers, staff and our partners for their support in this improvement scheme.’

Leicester City Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, recently opened the remodelled station. Speaking on the occasion, he said, ‘Leicester Station is a fantastic building. This ambitious refurbishment has created a truly welcoming and attractive gateway into our city.

I want to congratulate Network Rail and East Midlands Trains on this successful and sensitive redevelopment.’

UK Government Announces Termination of West Coast Franchise

UK Transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, has announced the cancellation of the contract awarding the West Coast mainline rail franchise to First Group.

The government has scrapped the contract after an investigation by the UK Department for Transport discovered major flaws in the franchise process.

Virgin Trains, a UK-based train company, had earlier commenced court proceedings against a decision by the Department of Transport to award the West Coast Main Line franchise to FirstGroup, a Scotland-based transport company.

Virgin Trains has been operating the railway service since 1997, but the Department for Transport awarded the new franchise contract for December 2012 to 2026 to First Group. Angered by the decision, Virgin had collected around 150,000 signatures for a campaign to force a parliamentary discussion to debate the granting of the contract to First Group.

Following the concerns raised, the Transport Select Committee has decided to hold a hearing into the competition for the rail franchise.

The new transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said, ‘I have had to cancel the competition for the running of the West Coast franchise because of deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes made by my department in the way it managed the process.

A detailed examination by my officials into what happened has revealed these flaws and means it is no longer possible to award a new franchise on the basis of the competition that was held.

I have ordered two independent reviews to look urgently and thoroughly into the matter so that we know what exactly happened and how we can make sure our rail franchise programme is fit for purpose.’