Virgin Trains to launch ‘high speed’ book signings

Virgin Trains is set to launch the UK’s first ever on board ‘high speed’ book signings on its West Coast route in autumn this year.

For the ‘High Speed Book Signings’, a host of celebrated authors have confirmed participation, including Scandi-crime writer, Jo Nesbo, the British writer, Joanna Trollope, who is launching The Austen Project with a reworking of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, and comedian and author, Ruby Wax.

All of the participating authors have either recently launched or will soon be launching their new books and will offer Virgin Trains’ passengers an exclusive opportunity to own a signed copy. The book signings will take place in Coach G, the First Class carriage closest to Standard Class. Travellers will be informed over the on-board announcement system and invited to buy a book before meeting the author for a personalised copy.

Commenting on the launch of the Book Singings programme, Jim Rowe, senior communications manager for Virgin Trains said, ‘Authors routinely travel the country to book signing sessions so we thought why not use the time travelling to sign some more. It is a fact: nowhere else will our authors sign books faster than on our Virgin high speed trains.’

Virgin Trains runs at a speed of up to 125mph between 45 West Coast stations from London Euston to Glasgow including Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. The authors will be travelling on various routes over the autumn months.

Effective from September 1, Virgin Trains Facebook page will provide passengers with details of when their favourite authors will be on board.

Virgin Trains is part of the Virgin Rail Group, which is owned jointly by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Management and Stagecoach Group plc, an international public transport group with operations in the UK, USA and Canada. The partnership claims to have transformed a struggling rail artery into the UK’s most used long-distance route. Running from London to major cities in England and through to Scotland, Virgin Trains now claims to provide a genuine alternative to the plane and the car.

Virgin Trains offers 25 percent fare reduction during work disruption

Virgin Trains, the train operating arm of sir Richard Branson’s Virgin empire, and the franchise holder for the West Coast Main Line, has announced that it is offering a number of cheap day return tickets between Glasgow and destinations in the north of England during the middle of July.

The company is offering a 25 percent reduction on return fares for all 9 days between July 13 and July 21, for all passengers returning the same day to destinations including Lancaster, Oxenholme, Penrith, Carlisle and Glasgow. During the same period, Network Rail, the company responsible for the UK’s rail infrastructure, will be carrying out essential maintenance work that will close the West Coast Main Line between Warrington Bank Quay and Preston. This will mean that there will be no direct service between London Euston/Birmingham New Street and Edinburgh and Glasgow Central during the period. Services should however be maintained between destinations north of Preston.

Virgin Trains’ general manager for Scotland and North England, Gary Iddon, said, ‘We recognise that passengers will be affected by this work and we’re doing everything we can to ensure that alternative travel arrangements are put in place for them. We will have extra staff deployed within stations to ensure that passengers get the appropriate information and can find their connecting services easily.

‘We’re delighted to be able to offer a significant price reduction on a number of fares between Lancashire, Cumbria and Glasgow, where travel will not be significantly affected. We would encourage the public to take advantage of these.’

The 25 percent reduction in ticket prices will see a cheap day return ticket to Carlisle from Glasgow reduced to £17.40 from the regular off-peak fare of £23.20, and Glasgow to Lancaster reduced to £23.50 from £31.30.

R4E renews Virgin Train’s 5-star certification

Recognised for Excellence (R4E), a part of the EFQM Levels of Excellence certification programme, has renewed Virgin Train’s certification at 5 stars, the highest level.

The certification is a renewal of the 5-star rating that Virgin Trains originally obtained two years ago, and follows the British Quality Foundation’s (BQF) bi-annual assessment of the company. Virgin was assessed on nine criteria and improved its overall score by approximately 20 percent.

R4E claims to recognise successful efforts to implement excellence and good practice, and offers the benefits of a structured approach to identifying organisational strengths and areas for improvement. The 5-star rating applied to Virgin Trains is said to be indicative that the company performs to a very high standard.

Virgin Train’s business support director, Andy Cross, said, ‘This award is a fantastic result for us and shows that, despite everything that happened with the franchise bid last year, thanks to our people, Virgin Trains has been formally recognised once again as a 5-star business. It will further build our credentials for the next franchise bid, and clearly shows that we are not standing still in the pursuit of excellence in customer service throughout every part of our business.’

In their report, the BQF assessors said, ‘Virgin Trains culture is based around the customer with the aim of providing excellent service and continuously improving the customer experience of travel on its routes. From senior leadership to front line staff it was clear that everyone we spoke with during the site visit has a focus on the customer and seeks to add value wherever possible. Virgin Trains has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of its customer base, both existing and potential, and their needs and expectations. It uses this knowledge to develop and deliver added value for customers e.g. through discounted ticket prices, targeted offers for frequent travellers and organisational groups, improvements to on board services and reduced journey times.’

Virgin gets go ahead for West Coast franchise extension

In the latest development in the West Coast Main Line franchise saga, the Department for Transport will ask Virgin Rail Group to extend its current agreement for a limited period.

Virgin Rail’s agreement was due to end on December 9 this year, and the new franchise was originally awarded to FirstGroup. However, following a protest campaign by Virgin Rail over the handling of the award, and a subsequent investigation by the Department for Transport, certain discrepancies were brought to light and the award to FirstGroup was withdrawn.

Two independent reviews have been set up into what went wrong with the bidding process, and while the findings of those reviews are awaited, Virgin Trains will continue to operate the line, possibly doing so for as long as nine months. The franchise process for other lines, including Essex Thameside, Great Western and Thameslink have also been put on hold until the reviewers have had an opportunity to report their findings.

Patrick McLoughlin, transport secretary, said, ‘The cancellation of the InterCity West Coast franchise is deeply regrettable and I apologise to the bidders involved and the taxpayer who have a right to expect better. My priority now is to fix the problem and the first step is to take urgent action to ensure that on the December 9th services continue to run to the same standard and passengers are not affected. I believe Virgin remaining as operator for a short period of time is the best way to do this and my officials and I will be working flat out to make this happen.’

A Virgin Trains spokesman commented that the company was now in a position to ‘offer customers some short-term continuity.’


Rail Companies Advise Book Christmas Train Journeys Now

Train companies are asking passengers to book their rail travel early for the upcoming festive season.

Rail passengers in the UK are being asked to book their Christmas tickets as early as possible by Virgin Trains, a UK-based train company, to benefit from the best prices and ensure reserved seating for the busiest travel period of the year.

Currently, the price for a single ticket for advance travel from London Euston to Birmingham is around GBP7.50; GBP12.00 from London Euston to Liverpool or Manchester; and GBP40.50 from London Euston to Glasgow.

Although there is still some political uncertainty over which rail company will ultimately be operating the West Coast franchise, as the current operators of the rail network, Virgin Trains are offering tickets for the Christmas season from December 9, 2012. The company has reported that tickets purchased before December 9, 2012, will be valid for travel on the journey dates.

While there will be no train services on December 25 and 26, all stations will remain open for the entire holiday period, with some alterations to train services due to routine maintenance work.

UK Transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, has earlier announced the cancellation of the contract awarding the West Coast mainline rail franchise to First Group, a Scotland-based transport company. The government has scrapped the contract after an investigation by the UK Department for Transport discovered major flaws in the franchise process. Three civil servants were also suspended following public pressure to revisit the franchise contract.

Virgin Trains, the current operator, has commenced court proceedings against a decision by the UK’s Department of Transport to award the West Coast Main Line franchise to FirstGroup.


Virgin Trains Announces Legal Proceedings for West Coast Main Line Franchise

Virgin Trains, a UK-based train company, has commenced court proceedings against a decision by the UK’s 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 has awarded the new franchise contract for December 2012 to 2026 to First Group. Angered by the decision, the company has collected around 150,000 signatures for a campaign to force a parliamentary discussion over the allotting of the contract to First Group.

Confirming the legal action, a company statement said, ‘We have tried for three weeks to get clarity over the Department for Transport’s decision and to have a number of key questions answered. On each occasion we have been refused information.

We are left with no choice but to commence Court proceedings as we believe the procurement process has ignored the substantial risks to taxpayers and customers of delivering FirstGroup’s bid over the course of the franchise.’

Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, said, ‘We had hoped that Parliament or an external review would be able to scrutinise this badly flawed process before the franchise was signed. However that opportunity would be denied if the DfT follows through with its determination to rush through the process before Parliament returns next week.

That ignores the wishes of more than 150,000 people who signed the Downing St e-petition in 10 days, the Labour Opposition, two important Commons committees and many backbench Conservative MPs who wanted a debate before the decision is taken, not a post-mortem afterwards.

We have not taken this decision lightly, but it is the only course now available to try to unravel this sorry process.’

The company claims that the Department for Transport’s own review placed Virgin’s bid as more deliverable and at lower risk.


Virgin Loses West Coast Rail Bid

Virgin Trains, a subsidiary of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group of companies, has lost in its bid to continue running the West Coast line rail services.

Virgin, which has been operating services on the line since 1997, has lost the franchise to First Group, a public transport company that is registered in Aberdeen, Scotland, following a government announcement today. First Group will now be operating the franchise from December this year until 2026.

The new incumbent has pledged to add capacity to the route, which constitutes the main arterial line between London Euston and Edinburgh, and incorporates the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow.

Sir Richard Branson has been predictably damning of the governments decision, saying that it was ‘very disappointing,’ while raising questions with regards to the amount of money that had won the bid for First Group.

It is believed that First Group bid between GBP6.5bn and GBP7bn, compared with Virgin’s GBP5.5bn to GBP6bn, and that the deal was sealed by its promise to improve services. But Branson commented that to bid more than Virgin had to secure the franchise would be ‘insanity’, and added, ‘We submitted a strong and deliverable bid based on improving customers’ experience, increased investment and sustained innovation. 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.’

Meanwhile, rail minister, Theresa Villiers, commented that the new franchise would, ‘deliver big improvements for passengers, with more seats and plans for more services.’


Virgin Trains Offers Changes in Scheduled Services for Network Rail Improvement Work

Virgin Trains has announced changes in its scheduled services due to improvement work to be carried out by Network Rail, the UK-based company that owns and operates most of the rail infrastructure in Great Britain.

The schedules for Friday, May 4, 2012, to Bank Holiday Monday, May 7, 2012, are being implemented due to improvement work on the lines, while Virgin Trains will be operating at its full capability on Friday and Bank Holiday Monday afternoon and evening.

On the upcoming Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the holiday weekend, work will be carried on various segments between Euston and Rugby; Crewe and Liverpool Lime Street; and Crewe and Glasgow/Edinburgh.

On Saturday, May 5, 2012, there will be no train services between Liverpool Lime Street and Crewe. Passengers travelling from Liverpool to Euston are requested to travel via Chester, Manchester Piccadilly, or Stockport. On Sunday, May 6, 2012, scheduled improvement work will be taking place between Rugby and Euston. At several congestion points, the company is offering replacement coaches that will connect passengers to Edinburgh or Glasgow.

On Bank Holiday Monday, May 7, 2012, work will be taking place between Crewe and Runcorn, Crewe and Warrington, and between Carlisle and Glasgow/Edinburgh, with work scheduled to be complete at 09:45 hours.

The company is offering alternative services for the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, for the routes affected, and will be aiming to offer scheduled services during peak hours during the beginning and end of the holiday weekend.