LONDON, June 7, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --
Virgin Rail Group (VRG) today demanded that millions of pounds of customer-focussed improvements be made by Network Rail to compensate customers for poor punctuality in recent months.
VRG, the owning group of Virgin Trains, is also preparing enforcement action to bring punctuality improvements, following sustained poor performance by Network Rail, which VRG believes is a breach of contract and has deterred some customers from travelling and damaged its business.
Network Rail has been strongly criticised by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) for failing to meet punctuality targets, and faces fines of up to £75 million for poor performance on long-distance routes, including the West Coast Mainline operated by Virgin Trains.
But VRG today called for any financial penalties to be in the form of customer improvements, and not in fines paid to the Treasury that remove investment from rail.
Tony Collins, CEO of VRG, said: "Network Rail has consistently failed to deliver what it is contracted to deliver. That has directly affected customers' experience, and their impression of rail travel. So any penalties levied on Network Rail should be in the form of tangible improvements that customers benefit from. There is really no benefit to Network Rail, customers or VRG in having money leave the industry."
Network Rail has missed targets agreed with Virgin Trains over the last two years, and punctuality stands at 85.7 percent in the most recent four-weekly period ending 25 May, against a target of 88 percent. More than 70 percent of delays are a result of Network Rail infrastructure issues, with fewer than 15 percent caused by Virgin Trains problems. The remaining delays are caused by other freight and passenger operators.
Virgin Trains has developed the fastest-growing long-distance network in Britain, with the highest satisfaction levels achieved by a long-distance franchise at 92 percent. But punctuality has suffered in recent months, despite Virgin Trains rolling stock beating all its own targets. Meanwhile, Network Rail has failed to meet most of its targets over the last two years. In the current financial year, starting in April, Network Rail delays have added more than 1,000 hours (65,000 minutes) to Virgin Trains' customer journeys.
Mr Collins added: "Providing world class customer service is the vision of Virgin Trains. We have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on a fleet of reliable trains and we pay Network Rail nearly £200 million a year to maintain the West Coast Mainline for us. We feel that we are not getting value for money in this respect and our customers have been let down and deserve more consistency. We have made our case strongly over many years to Network Rail, ORR and Government. But reluctantly we have taken this difficult decision on behalf of our customers."
VRG plans to take the action under contractual and industry arrangements available to train operators to ensure performance improvements.
Notes to Editors
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Virgin Trains has revolutionised rail travel by creating a high speed, high frequency service that has cut journey times and made rail journeys more comfortable. It has operated the West Coast passenger train franchise since 1997, serving key UK cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Glasgow.
Virgin Trains is the brand name of Virgin Rail Group (VRG), which is owned 51 percent by Virgin Group and 49 percent by Stagecoach. The Department for Transport (DfT) has awarded VRG a franchise contract, which started on 9 December 2012 and will run for up to 23 months. The DfT announced on 26 March 2013 a programme for letting future franchises, with the long-term West Coast franchise expected to start in April 2017.
Virgin Trains has been recognised in numerous awards. In September 2012 Business Traveller magazine readers voted the company the Best UK Domestic Rail Operator for the sixth year running. In 2011 the company was named Best Rail Operator in the Group Leisure Awards (which it also won in 2009 and 2010). In 2011 Virgin Trains won the British Quality Foundation's Achievement Award for Customer Satisfaction.
Customers consistently rate the company the top long-distance rail franchise operator, as measured by the National Passenger Survey (NPS) run by industry watchdog Passenger Focus. In the most recent NPS (Autumn 2012) overall satisfaction was 92%, our best score ever.
Virgin Trains first achieved Investors In People accreditation in 2007 and this was renewed in 2010; the IIP Gold award was achieved in 2011. In May 2013 Virgin Trains renewed it accreditation against the criteria of the European Foundation for Quality Management's (EFQM) Excellence Model, which it originally achieved in May 2011 The company's Learning and Development team won a National Training Awards 2011 West Midlands award for its Coaching Culture programme.
SOURCE Virgin Rail Group (VRG)