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Virgin Trains criticises Office of Rail Regulation for failing to deal robustly with Network Rail's performance failures

Press Release   •   Aug 01, 2013 11:13 BST

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) yesterday announced that despite Network Rail’s licence breach in relation to performance on long-distance routes, it would not impose a financial penalty on Network Rail. Commenting on this decision, Virgin Trains’ Chief Executive Tony Collins said:  

“It is outrageous that by refusing to impose a fine the ORR has again ducked taking tough action to deal decisively with poor performance by Network Rail. For years, infrastructure failures on the West Coast Mainline have undermined the ability of Virgin Trains and other operators to give customers the reliable service they should expect.

Network Rail has failed customers by delivering consistently poor performance over the past year. Now ORR has itself failed customers again by ducking its duty to hold Network Rail to account. That is not acceptable, and any business that consistently fails to deliver should be penalised. Even Network Rail acknowledges their performance is unacceptable but not fining allows Network Rail to think they are improving performance when they are not.

We would prefer the penalties to be in the form of real improvements for customers who have suffered rather than a fine which is paid to the Treasury, but the key is that Network Rail must understand that failure to perform incurs a penalty.

At the same time, ORR has said it is rejecting Virgin Trains’ proposals for new services to Blackpool and Shrewsbury because it will harm Network Rail’s performance. What message does that send about the railways – that we accept failure and stop expanding?

ORR has refused Virgin Rails Group’s offer to meet with their board to explain our views and only met with Network Rail. The ORR commits to using its ‘powers to hold the industry to account for performance and standards of service across the railway network, for passengers and freight’. It has singularly failed to meet one of its own key objectives."

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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 (Spring 2013) overall satisfaction was 92%, equalling our best ever score from the previous survey (Autumn 2012).

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.

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