Passengers have flocked to Virgin Trains in record numbers in the first full year of the Virgin High Frequency (VHF) service. Under VHF, launched on 14 December 2008, Virgin Trains has carried 25.4 million customers, attracted by the 30 percent step-up in train frequency and faster journey times. These are the best-ever annual carryings under Virgin Trains’ stewardship of the West Coast.
Total growth in passenger numbers is 15 percent. Growth has continued through the year, despite the difficult economic situation, in marked contrast to airlines and other long-distance rail operators. The share of the rail/air market on the Manchester/London route is over 80 percent, and on Glasgow/London has doubled to 17 percent as customers have switched away from domestic air travel and turned to trains instead.
The routes from Manchester and Birmingham to London Euston have seen train frequencies increased to every 20 minutes, and average journey times in the case of Manchester slashed to as little as 2h05. The number of direct trains from London to Glasgow increased from nine to 13 a day while, since 26 January, Chester has been linked to the Capital by a train each hour. Liverpool received extra peak period trains to and from London Euston.
Tony Collins, Virgin Trains’ Chief Executive Officer, said: “After a year of operation it is clear that VHF works. The intensive use of the network and of our trains is vital if the UK is to gain maximum benefit for the investment in the West Coast.”
Passengers travelling at weekends, previously used to limited frequencies and slow schedules while Network Rail carried out the West Coast Upgrade, have enjoyed some of the biggest improvements. Those taking weekend breaks, for example, have 20 minute interval services between London and Manchester and Birmingham through to mid-evening on Sundays. Passenger numbers at weekends have grown by 36 percent.
Service performance has steadily improved over the year after initially disappointing punctuality in the early part of 2009. Over the period between August and November the Public Performance Measure (PPM) was 90.1 percent. Our fleets of Pendolino and Super Voyager trains remain some of the most reliable in the industry.
During the year a number of other improvements have been introduced for customers. Wi-Fi and enhanced mobile reception has been installed on all our trains. Our programme of increasing car park spaces is now nearly complete, with some 2800 spaces delivered and extra capacity of 1000 spaces at remaining stations to come on stream during 2010. A new First Class Lounge has been opened at Crewe station; lounges at London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street have been completely refurbished.
Passengers have taken advantage of excellent deals on tickets. The average price paid per mile has gone down by 8.4 percent. A revamped website - virgintrains.com - launched in November makes it even simpler for customers to find the best prices, particularly through the user-friendly Best Fare Finder. Over 500,000 discounted Advance tickets are available every week.