In a dispute that has now been handed over to the courts, Virgin Trains have said the awarding of the west coast main line to First Great Western opens the real threat of improvements to services. As well as making train passengers happy, it also runs the risk of overturning years of tradition of high prices, late services and toilets you can’t use at the station.
In one of many interviews held by Richard Branson, he told us why this contract is unfair and unbritish. ’With 12,000 more seats a day and fares being cut by 15%, all they are doing is improving a service we have gradually brought to it’s knees since 1997. We have worked hard to get the ‘Virgin’ brand to live up to it’s name. We have beautiful looking trains that tempt you, but when you eventually get on you realise we have no idea what we are doing.’
First Group have said they are not bothered by any legal action to be taken by Virgin, and that they wish to proceed ‘without delay or disruption’, an attitude Branson says is not that of a 'real train operator'
Transport Secretary Justine Greening has said the plans for First Group to take control of the line remain on track, and described the allegations that improvements to services and lower ticket prices saw them get the contract as ‘ridiculous’ . ‘We couldn’t care less if the trains run on time, or how much a ticket costs. Our journeys are claimed on expenses so who gives a damn. Our decision is based purely on the extra payments to the government from First Group. Branson was only offering shares in Northern Rock. We’re not that stupid’
In a bid to get the Government to change it’s mind over the contract, Branson has said his company would run the line for free. ‘It is simple enough to do and it will keep the nation’s rail services where they expect it’ the softly spoken beardy continued. ‘We will offset the lack of public funds by reducing the amount of peak time trains, doubling the cost of a sandwich in the buffet cart, and increasing ticket prices at twice the rate of inflation, of my head should we win.’