Virgin Trains passengers have given a big thumbs up to the trains, staff and value for money for price of ticket, but they have made clear they desperately want to see the same standards at stations. These details are contained in the latest National Passenger Survey from rail watchdog Passenger Focus, published today.
Virgin Trains has been rated top of long-distance rail franchisees on ‘value for money for the price of your ticket’ and joint top on ‘overall satisfaction’. Virgin has been rated first or second on almost all aspects relating to trains – such as ‘provision of information during the journey’ and ‘comfort of seating area’, and first or second on around half of aspects relating to stations – such as ‘connections with other public transport’.
Eighty nine percent of passengers are satisfied with their overall experience with Virgin Trains, compared to 84% a year earlier. Sixty four percent of passengers are satisfied with the value for money tickets for Virgin Trains represent, up from 56% a year earlier and higher than any other operator. Virgin Trains staff also received some of the highest scores for helpfulness.
But the gap between the standards on trains and those at stations has widened. Scores for stations used by Virgin Trains’ passengers are below average in several areas affected by the condition of the stations. The results prompted a repeat of earlier calls by Virgin Trains to be allowed to take greater control of long-neglected stations, and bring them up to the levels of trains. Virgin Trains has day-to-day responsibility for managing 17 of the 43 stations it serves, but currently relies on Network Rail for major improvements. Virgin Trains believes that, as operator, it should take on this role.
Virgin Trains Chief Executive Tony Collins said: “The thumbs up for our trains and staff is great news, but I share our passengers’ frustration at the state of our stations and facilities. I know from personal contact with our station staff that they would also like to see better station facilities and I am confident that with the right investment at stations they will deliver an even better service for our customers.
“That’s why we support the plan of Transport Secretary Lord Adonis to improve the quality and facilities at stations up to 21st Century standards. We have long argued that longer franchises and allowing train operators to invest in stations, would act as the catalyst to station improvements, which in turn could drive wider regional regeneration. It is encouraging that Lord Adonis shares this vision and is prepared to find ways of making it happen.”
One key driver of the satisfaction results is the Virgin High Frequency timetable, introduced in December 2008. This saw journey times reduced, and an increase of over 30% in train services has seen frequency of trains score 86% (up from 81% in autumn 2008). Speed of trains has received a record score of 93% (up from 82% a year ago); with a massive improvement in train punctuality and reliability, to 90% against an 82% score in the previous autumn survey. The London to Manchester and London to Birmingham routes now have a train every 20 minutes, which has been described by Brendan Fox Editor of the Thomas Cook European Timetable as the “most frequent inter city timetable in Europe”.
An example of the benefits of greater operator involvement is the surge in satisfaction scores for car parking at Virgin Trains stations. This follows an investment of over £90 million increasing the number of car parking spaces at stations, with almost 3000 extra spaces already delivered. The investment with Network Rail has seen passenger satisfaction on facilities for car parking score 56 percent – an increase of 13 percent since the autumn 2008 survey.