Virgin Trains, those that operate on the West Coast, can be a strange beast. There are times when its top brass wants to eliminate its past, whilst at other times it wants to celebrate.
True, times have been tough. But just lets reflect. Twenty years operating a rail franchise is a long time in rail privatisation. Yes, I did say 20 years as it was at 02:00 on March 9th 1997 that Virgin took charge of its second rail franchise - it already had CrossCountry, but as history records it lost that one in 2007.
And for its 20th Birthday, Virgin wants to celebrate.
Back in 1997 Virgin Group funded its rail franchise activity through Investment Banks. When CrossCountry and West Coast were awarded Virgin only had a 41% share in Virgin Rail Group - the remaining 59% was held by Electra Fleming, JP Morgan, Bankers Trust and Texas Pacific Group, which was a start-up short term investment.
After the award of West Coast there were several options explored in relation to a re-financing package. I believe that at one stage a Stock Market flotation was the preferred option. However, a deal was struck in June 1998 with Stagecoach (and agreed with OPRAF) which provided the finds to repay the Investment Bankers whilst also allowing Virgin to increase its share in Virgin Rail Group by 10%, taking it from 41% to 51%.
The launch was accompanied by the release of cheaper advance fares on some routes, so it is great to see Virgin offering some heavily discounted advance fares as part of 20th Birthday Seat Sale. Itis launching a record six-day online 20th Birthday Seat Sale, to thank customers for twenty years of travelling with Virgin Trains on the West Coast.
From its birthday on Thursday 9 March to Tuesday 14 March, prices will be slashed on Standard and First Class fares on the Virgin Trains West Coast route.
Passengers booking in advance to travel on Virgin Trains to West Coast destinations including Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow can save up to 55% for travel between Saturday 25 March and Thursday 24 August 2017.
Discounted Standard fares include the below Advance Single tickets*:
London to Manchester: before £22, now £10
London to Birmingham: before £8, now £4
London to Chester: before £16.50, now £10
London to Glasgow: before £30, now £14
Discounted First Class fares include the below Advance Single tickets*:
London to Manchester: before £43, now £28
London to Birmingham: before £26, now £17
London to Chester: before £45, now £28
London to Glasgow: before £55, now £35
Phil Whittingham, MD for Virgin Trains on the West Coast, said: “What better way to celebrate 20 years of Virgin Trains than with our longest ever seat sale. From introducing the iconic Pendolino train and doubling passenger numbers, through to ground-breaking firsts like Automatic Delay Repay and our entertainment system BEAM, we’re proud of the impact we’ve had on UK rail travel. So we’ve knocked up to 55% off nearly one and a half million tickets, as we say thank you to our customers - we couldn’t have done it without you!”
Discounted tickets will be available to book at www.virgintrains.co.uk from 00:01 on Thursday 9 March.
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.