Rail franchises operators & contracts

24.04.19

Virgin Trains proposes radical new airline-style model for fares and franchising

Virgin Trains has put forward radical new proposals to manage rail services using an airline-style model, abolishing standing on trains and forcing passengers on long-distance journeys to pre-book seats.

The train operator wants to introduce a brand-new ticketing and franchising model and say the proposals would abolish overcrowding and complex ticketing, but the RMT has warned of “total chaos on the railways” if this “new era of wholesale deregulation” is allowed.

The train firm runs the West Coast Main Line and is currently involved in a significant dispute with the government over rail pensions and the DfT’s decision to disqualify its and Stagecoach’s franchise bids, but has made the proposal as part of its submission to the Williams Rail Review.

The model would see an airline-style model for long-distance operators which would see standing effectively abolished and long-distance journeys using a reservation-only system, and only one fare available at any given time for any one service.

Virgin Trains also propose a modified, devolved and longer-term franchise system for short distance commuter routes which would be integrated with local government bodies, as would responsibility for rail infrastructure and franchising.

Under the root-and-branch reform, a single, independent and strategic regulator would be created and the model would also encourage long-term private sector investment.

Long-distance train operators would compete against each other for different slots through auctions for bundles of train services, with Virgin Trains saying that market forces would drive up standards and lower prices.

The RMT’s general secretary Mick Cash said the proposals are effectively a “de-regulated free for all where private operators slug it out on the most lucrative routes on a slot by slot basis.”

He said it would lead to total chaos with passengers trapped by escalating fares, and said Virgin were actually proposing a version of the current broken system on steroids.

Patrick McCall, Virgin Group senior partner, said: “This submission was written before the recent government decision to disqualify our bid for the West Coast Partnership.

“However, we believe the recommendations are more pertinent than ever given this news. It is highly questionable whether any franchises can be let sensibly, or robustly, as things stand.

“This will not be an easy fix. Every option will have downsides and there will be some difficult decisions to be made. But there should be no dogmatic fixation on models or ownership.”

 Image credit -  Rui Vieira/PA Wire/PA Images

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