It’s been a day of announcements from Stagecoach but we have to admit that our smart money was on one of them happening and we even suggested it to one of our industry media contacts last week!
Mike Watson has been confirmed as the new Stagecoach South West Managing Director after taking the role on an interim basis in November. It’s a case of full circle for Mike who held the post of Managing Director at Stagecoach South West between 2015 and 2015.
Mike moved into the interim role following the departure of Bob Dennison at the end of last year. Bob Dennison is currently out in Saudi having joined former Stagecoach UK Bus Director Bob Montgomery and his team (which includes a number of other former Stagecoach managers) out there.
But back to the South West and Mike Watson, who has almost 25 years’ experience of the bus industry and has held a number of senior positions within Stagecoach.
Mike began his career in 1996 in the service planning department at London Transport Buses and then had roles within Go Ahead and Arriva before joining Stagecoach as Operations Director at the North East business in November 2011. Mike has recently been part of Stagecoach’s business development team and has lived with his family in Devon since 2013.
Stagecoach South West carries around 30 million passengers across Devon, Torbay and Plymouth, employing around 1,200 staff.
Mark Threapleton, Chief Operating Officer for Stagecoach, said: “Mike has a strong background in leading successful operating companies and has previous experience of running our operations in the south west. He has already made a positive impact during his short time in the south west.
“We are pleased to be welcoming Mike back to the south west and I wish him and his team the very best for the future.”
Mike Watson added: “I’ve really enjoyed being back in the south west and it’s been great to reunite with the team here.
“This is a really special part of the country to work, live and visit, and having a transport system that meets the needs of its customers is a key part of that. I look forward to working with my team and our partners across the county to make sure we are delivering the very best bus services for our customers.”
Whilst a few hundred miles north, Stagecoach Group has also made an announcement today. It has announced the appointment of Marc Turley as its new Commercial Director overseeing commercial pricing strategy and overall product development.
Marc has worked in various commercial roles within Stagecoach since 2016, and has over 20 years’ experience of the transport industry. He previously worked in senior commercial and marketing positions within East Midlands Trains, a Stagecoach subsidiary, and numerous National Express Group companies.
Marc will take up his new position on Monday 3 February, working as part of Stagecoach’s Operations Board and will work alongside the Business Development team to drive forward the core business strategy.
We understand that Marc will carry forward the work that had been overseen by Paul Bunting before he left the Stagecoach business at the end of last year.
Mark Threapleton, Chief Operating Officer for Stagecoach, said: “I’m very pleased to welcome Marc into his new role as Commercial Director. Marc has a strong background in leading commercial and marketing strategy and has made a very positive impact in his time with Stagecoach.
“Marc will work alongside the senior leadership team in helping to drive forward our strategy for the future, which continues to put customers firmly at the core of our business.”
Marc Turley added: “Stagecoach is a company with a strong vision for the future which places the customer at its heart and I’m pleased to be given the opportunity to continue to play a key role in that.
Another Enviro 400MMC has been delivered to Stagecoach North East’s Walkergate depot in all over white, so that now makes two buses delivered this week in an anonymous white colour scheme. There is no indication yet from Stagecoach on what the intention is for these vehicles but we suspect the new brand image could well be applied using vinyls rather than giving the buses a full repaint – or maybe there is another plan for these two buses, although we suspect that others will be delivered in what amounts to dealer white colours.
Contrast that with the - in our opinion - insipid green livery that 34 E400City electric buses are being/have been delivered in for operations in Manchester and a nominal two-bus operation in Cambridge. I did like a Tweet response from the Stagecoach East team earlier today responding to a question on when the electric buses will enter service from Cambridge (yes, the plan as we understand it is that they will operate from Cambridge and not from Fenstanton. The latter location has been banded about widely on the web!). The response from the Cambridge team is that they need to get a bigger plug before putting the buses into service - a great answer. That said, Cambridge hasn’t seen the two buses yet, they are tucked away in a depot belonging to another Stagecoach company, presumably keeping them safe until needed.
I digress and back to the insipid green, it’s also on 12 Enviro 400XLBs and six Volvo B8RLE/MCV eVoRa saloons for the Cambridgeshire Busway.
That leads us, and we suspect other commentators, to make the assumption that insipid green is the new livery for special operations such as Electric Buses, Busway, Park & Ride. We were expecting a change to the Stagecoach logo, but the current version has been applied to one of the Manchester Enviro 400City vehicles - although I suppose it could easily be replaced with a newer version.
My guess is that all will become clear on Stagecoach livery and branding within weeks now rather than months. It has been a long and drawn-out project though - we first reported on it in 2017!
For over 24 months the project had a low profile outside the company and there was a reluctance to even acknowledge that something specific being undertaken – the band response was that all companies continually look at their brand proposition.
Perhaps the first public acknowledgement was late last year and contained in the report to the half-yearly accounts.
Then Stagecoach said: “We are ready to roll out a new over-arching brand proposition for Stagecoach. This is about far more than a new identity for our vehicles. It incorporates a new brand vision and values, the roll out of commercial initiatives, and an extensive marketing campaign”.
The company added that research had shown that “by increasing brand awareness and relevance and implementing a coordinated marketing and customer strategy, we can improve the end-to-end customer experience and increase our passenger revenue through modal shift”.
It would appear that a greater focus is to be placed on central/national marketing activity which in recent times has tended to be locally driven and focused.
The report adds: “While we intend to continue with our local marketing activity, we see significant potential from complementing that with centrally co-ordinated branding and marketing activity, optimising our position as the UK’s largest bus and coach operator. We have been encouraged by the returns on investment that we have achieved from initial central marketing activity during 2019 and are looking to build on that. Our plans include a mix of short-term tactical marketing activity to drive near term sales, as well as generating long-term revenue and profit growth through brand building.
The company is serious about its proposed brand proposition. That much we know because it intends to increasing its UK Bus brand and marketing spend from c.£8 million per annum to c.£13 million per annum to target passenger revenue growth.
Look out for big changes in the way Stagecoach markets itself and we now await details of what the brand and image looks like for the re-invented Stagecoach
Following our blog last week, Stagecoach has finally announced a number of moves within its bus businesses in the north of the country.
The changes, which take place from the start of next month see four Managing Directors moving to new parts of the Country.
Stagecoach told SKM that the moves are “part of Stagecoach’s ongoing business change programme, which is designed to ensure that the company is fit for the future across its business”.
The MD changes are largely within the Stagecoach UK Bus North region, which is now being led by Catherine Acton-Brazier who was appointed Regional Director North last year and who joined the company from BT & Openreach.
Catherine now oversees Stagecoach’s UK Bus businesses in Cumbria & North Lancashire, East Midlands, Manchester, Merseyside & South Lancashire, North East and Yorkshire. Throughout her career, Catherine has led customer service, operations, innovation, service improvement and change.
The MDs moving offices are:
Matt Davies, Managing Director for Stagecoach Yorkshire, will move to become Managing Director for Stagecoach Merseyside and South Lancashire. has been Managing Director of Stagecoach Yorkshire since July 2016. He has over 25 years’ experience in the bus industry after beginning his career as a management trainee with Lincolnshire RoadCar in 1995 after completing a Transport Management degree at the University of Northumbria. Matt and his family live in the North West, and he has held senior roles in this region with Stagecoach, Arriva and First Group.
Rob Jones, Managing Director for Stagecoach Merseyside and South Lancashire, will move to become Managing Director of Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire. Rob was appointed Managing Director of Stagecoach Merseyside and South Lancashire in December 2016. Rob began his career in the bus industry almost 30 years ago as a cleaner with a local bus company aged just 15. He gained his PCV licence and since then, has held a number of management positions including Operations Manager for Stagecoach North West during which time he won the Young Manager of the Year Award at the 2008 UK Bus Awards.He has also worked as Operations Director in West Scotland and Merseyside and South Lancashire, before becoming Managing Director.
Mark Whitelocks, Managing Director for Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire, will move to become Managing Director for Stagecoach Midlands, which falls under the south region. Mark has been the Managing Director of Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire since May 2018. Mark joined Stagecoach through the company’s Graduate Development Programme and has previously held managerial positions at Stagecoach West, Stagecoach South West and Stagecoach East Scotland before being appointed Managing Director, Stagecoach North Scotland in 2016, and then moving to Cumbria. Mark and his family are originally from the Midlands.
Phil Medlicott, Managing Director for Stagecoach Midlands, will move to become Managing Director for Stagecoach Yorkshire. Phil returned to Stagecoach in June 2018 as Managing Director of the Midlands business.Phil began his career in the bus industry in 1983, becoming a driver and then holding a series of management posts at bus companies in Birkenhead, Runcorn and London before joining Stagecoach in 2000 as Operations Director for Stagecoach South. He worked as Managing Director of Stagecoach Warwickshire, Stagecoach South East and Stagecoach North East before taking up the role as Managing Director of First Manchester in 2016.
Catherine Acton-Brazier, said: “Since joining Stagecoach UK Bus in November, I have been delighted to see the wealth of talent within the business. It’s clear there is a strong focus on delivering the best service for customers, and I want us to continue to be in the best position to embrace all the new opportunities ahead.
“These changes will enable a number of our Managing Directors to gain experience of different areas of our business and provides the opportunity to have a fresh look at our operations in the north to support our strategy for the future.
“I’d like to congratulate Matt, Rob and Phil on their new appointments within my team, and wish Mark all the best as he moves into the south part of our network.”
There are no changes to the Managing Director positions in the other Stagecoach UK Bus North businesses: Manchester, the North East or East Midlands.
In a separate announcement, Stagecoach UK Bus has named its new Regional Director for Scotland as Sam Greer. Sam, who has been in the transport industry for 35 years, is currently Technical & Engineering Director for Stagecoach and will continue in that role as well as taking overall responsibility for the four businesses in Scotland; East Scotland, West Scotland, Bluebird and Highlands.
It follows the announcement that Robert Andrew will be retiring in June after 35 years in the transport industry. Robert joined Stagecoach in 1992 as Operations Manager for Inverness and has held many senior positions across the business, becoming Regional Director for Scotland & Wales in 2019. He has held held a number of Managing Director and Regional Director positions since 2000. Robert will continue to lead the megabus and Citylink coach businesses and Stagecoach South Wales until his retirement.
Sam Greer began his career in 1984 as an apprentice mechanic with the then Scottish Bus Group. He later worked for London Metroline and Strathclyde Buses before joining Western Scottish in 1992 as depot engineer. Following Stagecoach's takeover of Western Scottish, he was appointed as Engineering Director of Stagecoach West Scotland in 1997, a position he held until 2006 when he took on the role of Managing Director of the company. He has previous experience of being Regional Director for Scotland from 2010 to 2016, and more recently, he has held the position of UK Bus Engineering Director and Technical & Engineering Director, with responsibility for Stagecoach’s fleet of over 8,000 buses and coaches.
Mark Threapleton, Chief Operating Officer for Stagecoach, said: “Robert has played a valuable role in our business and has built strong relationships with our stakeholders. Under his leadership, we have seen many successes in Scotland, including the roll out of multi-operator and multi-modal ticketing and the trial of the country’s first autonomous bus. Robert will be a loss to our business, but we wish him all the best for his forthcoming retirement.
“I am delighted that Sam Greer will be taking over the Regional Director Scotland role, in addition to continuing to lead our fleet strategy. Sam has a wealth of knowledge of our business and extensive experience of public transport in Scotland.
"Under Sam’s leadership, we have invested more than £1 billion in new greener vehicles and by the end of this year, we will be running one of the biggest electric bus fleets in Europe. We will continue to lead the way in the transition to a cleaner public transport future.”
It’s been more than 15 years since I was involved in the media, PR and stakeholder work to launch the iconic Pendolino trains into service with Virgin Trains. Now I hear that the iconic train fleet is to undergo a major refurbishment and more than that the work will create scores of high-skilled engineering jobs and secure hundreds more roles throughout the UK.
All 56 electric Pendolino trains, now operated by Avanti West Coast, will be overhauled in a £642m, seven-year deal signed between the route’s new operator, Avanti West Coast, and Alstom which built the fleet.
As well as covering a £127m upgrade of the Pendolinos, which is believed to be the biggest train upgrade programme ever undertaken in the UK, the deal will see Alstom maintain them until 2026
The first of the revolutionary tilting Pendolino trains operated in service in 2002.
The overhaul will focus on onboard facilities, with passengers benefitting from more comfortable seating, improvements to the shop, revamped toilets, better lighting, new interiors, and the installation of at-seat chargers and improved Wi-Fi throughout. Performance will also be improved through new maintenance programmes.
The deal will create 100 high-skilled roles, mostly based at Alstom’s Transport and Technology Centre in Widnes, with hundreds more existing engineering jobs secured at key depots in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxley and Wembley.
Managing Director of Avanti West Coast, Phil Whittingham, said: “The Pendolino is an iconic passenger train and we’re delighted to be giving it a new lease of life. This deal will improve the experience of passengers and ensure the fleet can continue to serve communities up and down the west coast route in the years ahead.”
Nick Crossfield, Managing Director, Alstom UK & Ireland added: “Alstom are proud to have been trusted by First Trenitalia to maintain the Avanti West Coast fleet and upgrade the Pendolino trains. Over the last 15 years these trains have revolutionised travel for passengers, with faster and more frequent services.
“Passengers can now look forward to a new chapter in this story with Avanti West Coast, and with this contract in place, Alstom can look forward to investing even more in high quality jobs and apprenticeships as we deliver these improvements.”
It would appear that changes are on the cards at Stagecoach with several UK Bus Managing Directors set to move in the latest company re-organisation. We understand that several MDs will be playing musical chairs, but that all will have a chair to sit on! More details as they emerge.
Elsewhere within Stagecoach UK Bus, we picked up shortly after Christmas that Paul Bunting had taken the decision to leave the company.
Paul has joined Stagecoach UK Bus in April 2017 as Commercial and New Business Director. He had, however, according to his Linkd-in profile previously worked for Stagecoach Group as UK Business Development Director between 2002 and 2004, leaving to become the Managing Director of the Midland Main Line rail franchise. He has also held senior posts with French state railway SNCF and also the South Staffordshire and Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust.
Prior to his departure Paul was actively leading the Stagecoach UK Bus brand review.
A spokesperson for Stagecoach said: "Paul Bunting decided to leave the business at the end of December. Paul re-joined Stagecoach in 2017 as Commercial Development & Marketing Director.
"Paul has led marketing, customer experience, research and business development, including work to start simplifying our tickets and of course our upcoming brand refresh.
"We would like to thank Paul for the contribution he has made during his time here at Stagecoach and we wish him well for the future."
We had picked up on the ‘grapevine’ a few weeks ago that Bob Dennison, Managing Director at Stagecoach South West had left the company. Now we have confirmation in a statement issued locally rather than at Stagecoach Group level.
We wish Bob well for the future. He has always been approachable and assisted whenever we have had any fleet queries both in his time at Stagecoach East and latterly during his time at Stagecoach South West.
We first met Bob back in 2004 when, as Engineering Manager at Peterborough depot, he oversaw the engineering elements of the introduction of into service of 20 Dart SLFs to launch the Peterborough Citi network.
Bob was very aware of the impact that good media and PR could have on the business and pro-actively supported the then Commercial Director Philip Norwell and MD Andy Campbell in creating impact. It was a real pleasure working with Bob and his engineering team to get a series of photographs that showed the impact of the investment in 20 new buses.
Bob has had a 25-year bus industry career, 20 of those with Stagecoach.
He began his bus industry career in 1994 as an apprentice mechanic in New Zealand before starting work with Stagecoach in Hull.
In 2000, Bob achieved a place on Stagecoach’s Staff Development Programme, and subsequently moved to Cambridge as Engineering Supervisor.
He then had a spell as Engineering Manager at Peterborough depot before returning to Cambridge depot as Engineering Manager. Bob was appointed Engineering Director at Stagecoach East in 2008.
For the last four years, Bob has managed Stagecoach’s South West of England business, which runs local bus services across Exeter, East Devon, Torbay, South Devon, North Devon, Somerset and into Cornwall and Dorset.
Mark Threapleton, Stagecoach Chief Operating Officer, said: “I would like to thank Bob for the contribution he has made over many years at a number of companies across Stagecoach, including in the south west. We wish him well for the future.”
Mr Dennison said: “I've greatly enjoyed working with the team at Stagecoach South West, and with colleagues across the wider business, over the past two decades and I will look back fondly on the many achievements that I have been part of. Stagecoach has been a huge part of my life, but the time has come for a different focus and I'm looking forward to new challenges ahead. I would like to thank all the people I've worked with at Stagecoach over the years for their commitment, assistance and support."
Mike Watson, who was previously Stagecoach regional director for England and Wales and who has most recently been working with the business development team, has been appointed interim Managing Director, Stagecoach South West, while a formal recruitment process takes place.
We were aware that there had been a train damaged in a collision at Neville Hill depot on November 13th 2019 as it affected LNER's ability to operate a full service on the East Coast Main Line.
We weren't aware of the severity of the impact until we received a Press Notice from the Rail Accident Investigations Branch who are now investigating.
At about 21:40 hrs on Wednesday 13 November 2019, an empty passenger train approaching the maintenance depot at Neville Hill in Leeds, caught up and collided with the rear of another empty passenger train moving into the depot on the same track. The low speed movement of trains close together is permitted by the signalling system at this location. The leading train was travelling at around 5 mph (8 km/h) and the colliding train at around 14 mph (22 km/h). No one was injured in the accident.
The colliding train was a 9-coach class 800 train, part of the Intercity Express Programme (IEP). Its leading end suffered significant damage during the collision. The second train was a High Speed Train (HST) set comprising 9 coaches and a class 43 locomotive at each end. The trailing class 43 locomotive on this train also suffered significant damage.
As a result of the collision, the trailing bogie of the second and third coaches and the trailing axle of the fourth coach on the class 800 train, derailed to the right in the direction of travel.
The RAIB investigation will identify the sequence of events which led to the accident and the factors that contributed to its consequences. It will consider:
I was there at the beginning. As a journalist working on RAIL magazine I spent many hours trawling through rail franchise documents and attending both Government and prospective franchisee briefings.
I can’t but admit that I was excited when Virgin said it was to bid for a piece of the rail franchise action. The proposals were radical but based around real investment.
There were initial issues around poor train presentation and delays. What Virgin could do was invest but it couldn’t deliver investment immediately. The argument from passengers, politicians and user groups was that all Virgin had delivered was ‘gloss’ and that underneath to sparkling paint the product was the same old and tired BR train and service.
I had confidence that improvements would be made and I jumped from Journalist to PR man in 2000 to join Virgin Trains. There were good times and there were bad but when I left twelve years later the negative media bombardment of Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Trains was a distant memory.
It is, therefore, with a tinge of sadness that I note that in less than two weeks’ time Virgin will relinquish the West Coast franchise. It is doing so in style and we really like the short video it has produced to mark the passing, even if it has brought Mr Blobby back into the public sphere.
So let’s let Virgin Trains take up the story…..
Virgin Trains has launched a tongue-in-cheek music video featuring founder Sir Richard Branson, celebrities from across two decades and a host of staff to wave goodbye to the West Coast Mainline, and celebrate its achievements as the UK’s longest running rail franchise.The train operator is bidding a fond farewell to customers who have taken almost 500 million trips on its services since 1997. Virgin Trains is taking viewers on one final ‘journey’ with a two-minute video starting when the franchise began in 1997 and ending in 2019. Featuring Richard and a cast of Virgin Trains employees who lip-sync to (I’ve Had) the Time of My Lifefrom the iconic movie Dirty Dancing, it has been released to mark the final weeks of the Virgin Trains franchise, which is due to end in early December.
The video also stars some familiar faces from the ‘90s to present. From Crinkly Bottom’s most infamous resident, Mr Blobby, to Shaun Williamson, who made his name playing hapless Barry in Eastenders,with celebrity cameos for viewers to spot in between.
Commenting on the video’s release, Richard said: “Virgin Trains has led the UK rail industry for over 20 years, delivering faster journeys, ground-breaking innovation and award-winning customer service. Our 3,500 people are at the heart of the business and are the stars of this video, which celebrates the amazing work they have done to become the top-rated franchise in the UK today. We’ve had the time of our life serving our customers and wanted to celebrate the fun we have had with them since 1997.”
Over the course of our franchise tenure, Virgin Trains has nearly trebled passenger numbers, achieved consistent industry-leading customer satisfaction scores and introduced a fleet of tilting Pendolino trains. We have also led the field in tech innovation by automatically repaying people for delays, making digital tickets available for all fare types, introducing the ability to buy tickets on Amazon Alexa and launching our onboard entertainment streaming service, BEAM.
Phil Whittingham, MD, Virgin Trains, said: “Of course we’re extremely sad that Virgin Trains is disappearing as a train operator, but we wanted to leave as we entered: by having fun. We’re immensely proud of our track record over more than two decades and hope our customers enjoyed travelling with us as much as we enjoyed serving them.”
Kai Leung, an onboard Customer Service Assistant with Virgin Trains said: “I loved taking part in the film – it was great fun to celebrate everything we’ve achieved as a business over the past 22 years. I absolutely love my role at Virgin Trains and I’m sad to be saying goodbye; every day is different, and it’s a privilege to have a part in creating memorable experiences for our customers when they travel with us. We’re looking forward to continuing to serve customers on the West Coast when the new franchise starts in December.”
Watch the full video here: www.virgintrains.co.uk/22yearsor here: https://youtu.be/vrzv3a65X3w
All Images (c) Virgin Trains
Having been booted out of the competition for the new West Coast Partnership rail franchise over a non-compliant bid in relation to pension provision, Virgin is bouncing back with an ambitious Open Access operation on the route.
Virgin Trains has applied to the rail regulator to run what it is describing as the UK’s most advanced, and customer-focussed, train service.
If granted services would start in May 2021 providing a basic hourly service between Liverpool and London.
Virgin Trains says the new services would be unique in the UK rail industry. Every ticket would be guaranteed to be at least 10% cheaper than equivalent tickets offered by rail competitors, whioch means that it would undercut the franchised operator on the route.
However, Virgin Trains is not offering a walk-up provision. It is planning an airline-style service where each ticket would also come with a seat reservation for a particular service, meaning everyone would be guaranteed a seat.
The company says that the Virgin Trains service would be the only rail service in the UK to guarantee no overcrowding in normal operations. If there was disruption on the rail network and services were busier than normal, any passengers who couldn’t get a seat would get a full refund of their ticket.
Customers would also benefit from free Wi-Fi on all services, as well as free films and TV on board and an ‘at-seat’, on-demand catering service. And if trains were delayed, every passenger would get automatic ‘delay repay’ compensation without having to lodge a claim.
Phil Whittingham, Virgin Trains MD, said, “Virgin Trains has led the UK rail industry for twenty-two years. We’ve delivered faster and more frequent services, pioneered digital ticketing and shaken up the industry with initiatives such as scrapping the Friday evening peak. That’s why we top the independent customer satisfaction charts for long-distance franchises.
“But we want to go further. These new services will allow us to take the customer experience on the UK’s railways to the next level and show the rest of the industry how it can be done.”
The application to the rail regulator bids for 24 services per day between London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street. It is expected these services would also call at Lichfield, Tamworth, Nuneaton and Liverpool South Parkway.
This initiative is separate to Virgin Trains’ current West Coast operation. It is expected the new services will generate around £50m of revenue each year. The Open Access bid is being made by a partnership comprising Virgin, Stagecoach, SNCF and Alstom. Virgin has not disclosed the level of shareholding of the partners or indeed what rolling stock it would use to operate the service. However, there could be surplus Mk4/Class 91 trainsets available. There are currently being displaced from East Coast Main Line operations as the new Azuma trains enter service.
The announcement is hot on the heels of news that by the end of December, Virgin Trains will release an app which promises savings for rail passengers of around £1bn a year. The app will offer an Oyster-style fares cap which will work out the cheapest fare for a journey retrospectively, ensuring customers have the cheapest fare combination available. The app will also deliver a seamless split-ticketing function, automatically calculating if a cheaper combination of fares for one journey is available, without having to change train or purchase multiple paper tickets.
Sir Richard Branson responds to loss of rail contract…. (with a picture review of his visits and events)
The Department of Transport’s announcement yesterday that Virgin, in partnership with Stagecoach Group and SNCF, had been disqualified from the bidding process for the new West Coast Partnership franchise came as a blow and a complete surprise. For more details see the Blog entry dated 10thApril 2019.
Sir Richard in a posting on the Virgin Blog site says he is ‘devastated’ at the decision. Only a few days ago Virgin Trains announced that it was now carrying 39.5 million passengers a year and the West Coast operation was on target to hit 50 million passengers a year by 2026 and that is ahead of HS2. That’s a long way from the 14 million passengers a year in the first year of Virgin Trains’ tenure of West Coast operator in 1997.
Sir Richard is passionate about rail. He rode the storm in the early years of the CrossCountry and West Coast franchises. Perhaps it would have been better to have left the bright red Virgin livery and brand off the ‘old’ trains that were inherited with the franchises in the 1990s. But hindsight doesn’t make things better. That said there is no doubt that Virgin made an impact on CrossCountry and also on the West Coast route. It has operated the West Coast franchise now for 22 years - far longer than the route was operated by British Rail’s InterCity sector, although the Inter-City brand was initially introduced in 1966.
Virgin, with its Partner Stagecoach, has transformed travel on the West Coast with new trains and a much increased frequency on routes to and from London.
I met Sir Richard a few times in the early years of the franchise. The first time was when I worked at EMAP at the West Coast franchise launch and immediately afterwards following the production of a limited edition Hornby model of a Class 90 locomotive in Virgin colours. Along with then ModelRail Editor Chris Leigh one of the Class 90 models was presented to Sir Richard at his Holland Park home. I was back at Holland Park a year or so later when Virgin launched The Trainline.
Between April 2000 and November 2012 I has contact with Sir Richard through my activities as part of the Virgin Trains Communications Team. Like him or loathe him, Sir Richard ‘s visits were always welcomed by staff and he knew how to engage and motivate them. He was also there to support them through the hard times and there were several. Many of the people working for West Coast joined the business because they wanted to work for Virgin.
Reproduced below is the text from Sir Richard’s Blog:
“I received the news this morning (April 10th2019) that the Department for Transport (DfT) has decided to disqualify our bid for the West Coast Partnership. This means that Virgin Trains could be gone from the UK in November.
“I am devastated for the teams who have worked tirelessly to make Virgin Trains one of the best train companies in the UK, if not the world. Virgin Trains has led in the industry for more than 20 years and we wanted this to continue for many more years.
“Running the railway comes with many challenges and the West Coast Main Line was struggling when we took it over, but we were determined to turn it around. With new trains, new track and our incredible team, we have become renowned for the award-winning way we look after our customers.
“Virgin Trains is consistently at the top of the long distance franchised operators for customer satisfaction - receiving a 90% customer satisfaction rating in the National Rail Passenger Survey. We have almost tripled passenger journeys - from around 14m in 1997 to nearly 40m today - and introduced ground-breaking initiatives like automatic delay repay, Beam, and Alexa. Drawing on the expertise we’ve gained over the past two decades in the UK, Virgin Trains have also recently launched in the US and we are working to transform rail travel there too.
“We’re baffled why the DfT did not tell us that we would be disqualified or even discuss the issue - they have known about this qualification in our bid on pensions for months.
“Our first priority is always to look after our teams. The pensions regulator has warned that more cash will be needed in the future, but no one knows how big that bill might eventually be and no responsible company could take that risk with pensions. We can’t accept a risk we can’t manage - this would have been reckless. This is an industry-wide issue and forcing rail companies to take these risks could lead to the failure of more tail franchises".
We have scoured our archives of press and PR images issued Virgin Trains (CrossCountry and West Coast) and can present a selection showing Sir Richard Branson (and some with Sir Brian Souter) taken during events. We also have a press image taken on the first day of Virgin’s operation of the West Coast franchise. All images are © Virgin Trains.