Virgin Trains today confirmed that it is investing over £400,000 into Liverpool and Merseyside this year as soaring numbers of passengers on the fast Virgin Pendolino rail link to London puts airline travel to flight.
In the week that air carrier VLM reduced its service between Liverpool and London to just two return flights a day, Virgin Trains is in discussions with Network Rail about the possible introduction of extra peak hour trains on the Liverpool-London route from December - a full twelve months earlier than originally planned.
The two extra trains would take the number of return services between Liverpool and London to 16 a day on weekdays - more than 7,000 seats a day. With 50-seater Fokker aircraft, VLM offers just 100 seats a day in each direction - less than 1.5 percent of the total rail/air capacity on the route.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority, in the 12 months to October 2006 Virgin’s Pendolinos were consistently on time more often than VLM’s flights between Liverpool and London. Throughout the year 92.3 percent of Virgin’s services arrived on time compared to just 80.5 percent of VLM’s flights*. At the same time passenger numbers on the Virgin Pendolino service increased by 11 percent against a 26.2 percent fall in those flying between the two cities.
Virgin’s improved punctuality has increased the number of passengers using all Virgin’s West Coast services. Numbers have increased by 39 percent from 14 million to 19.4 million since Virgin took over the franchise in March 1997.
Virgin West Coast Managing Director Charles Belcher said: “This is a clear sign that rail is making a major difference on these key routes. More and more people are taking advantage of reduced journey times, value for money tickets and more frequent services.
“We appreciate airline competition which gives a benchmark against which passengers can measure the superiority of the train in terms of comfort, ease of station access and on board facilities. The train really does provide the most valuable travel time.”
Also, Virgin Trains is supporting current improvement works at the Liverpool’s main Lime Street station. This will result in some refurbishment of the main concourse and transfer of the taxi pick-up point to the Skelhorn Street side of the station, nearer to the platforms used by Virgin’s London trains. The company is also committed to providing a new First Class Lounge for its passengers at the station and is working closely with Merseytravel and Network Rail.
Virgin Trains said that major improvements will start at Runcorn station in March, reflecting the importance of the station to business and leisure travellers. A First Class Lounge and Standard waiting area will be provided, served by a new buffet. The booking office and retail area will be moved and upgraded, and access improved for mobility impaired customers. Station staff will benefit from improved facilities. Improved cladding will enhance the exterior of the station building.
Recognising the importance of the Liverpool area to the success of Virgin Trains’ business, a General Manager for the area has been appointed. 32-year-old Gary Iddon will take up his new role in March, having headed up the Virgin Trains resources organisation for the last seven years.
Mr Belcher said: “Our staff, stakeholders and passengers have frequently told us that they wanted us to manage Liverpool from Liverpool, and not from 30 miles away in Manchester. We have listened to them and for the first time, our frontline people - train managers, onboard people and drivers were involved in the recruitment and selection process.”
Commenting on Virgin Trains’ commitment and investment in the region, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, Jack Stopforth said: “Liverpool Chamber of Commerce welcomes the Virgin Trains announcement of its commitment to enhance travel for the Liverpool City region. The enhancements will benefit both business and leisure travellers and should assist in developing further growth in rail passenger traffic.”
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