Whither West Coast?

21 November 2012

Listening to Chris Gibb, the MD of Virgin Trains, at our recent public board meeting was very interesting.

He confirmed that it’s not clear at all what (if anything) new will happen during the 12 months or so extra that Virgin will run the routes until the interim franchise comes into operation.

We will be putting together, on behalf of all passengers, a prioritised list of issues which we think need addressing in the next twelve months and beyond. All this will, as ever, be based on our research. We will also continue to closely track passenger satisfaction through our National Passenger Survey, the next wave of which is being completed now with the Spring wave starting in mid January next year.

However, there is good news. The new extra coaches will all soon be in place in the Pendolino trains. Some new trains are arriving which will allow an hourly Glasgow London service – more choice for current air passengers in particular. Overall the new coaches and trains add a third extra capacity – helping to meet one of the key requirements for passengers as measured by our priorities for improvement research.

But is Banquo’s ghost looming? Virgin had a monopoly on the West Coast by virtue of the Government investment in the line. That now ends. In theory anyone can apply to operate a competing ‘open access’ service – not much space to do this but things could hot up in a very interesting way.

This also links to the questions about how services on any new high speed line might be structured (see our research on what passengers want from the West Coast line once the high speed line is operating here). Franchise or let the market decide? Big important questions that will heavily shape what passengers will finally experience.

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