Tim O’Toole, CEO of FirstGroup, has publicly criticised Virgin Trains’ performance citing the Public Performance Measure (PPM), which measures the number of trains arriving on time, as evidence to support his claims that FirstGroup would operate West Coast better.
He has also commented on the number of complaint letters received by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) in relation to the West Coast franchise. He claims that the franchises under his current stewardship out perform the West Coast.
Virgin Trains would like to put the record straight on both of these points.
When analysing the PPM figures for our respective franchises, it shows that the delay caused by our own stewardship on the route is amongst the lowest of all train operating companies and considerably better than most of the First Group’s train companies. It is a well known fact that all operators on the busiest mix traffic route in Europe that is the West Coast Mainline suffer from poor infrastructure reliability. This is precisely the reason we have seconded Chris Gibb, our Chief Operating Officer, to Network rail to work closely with them in improving the route’s reliability.
Similarly if Mr O’Toole had taken the time to analyse the complaints made to the ORR, he would have seen that the majority of them related to the poor infrastructure performance that are outside our control.
We further note that Mr O’Toole was careful not to comment on the Passenger Focus surveys which measure customer satisfaction levels for each franchise. These show that Virgin trains are rated as the best long distance franchise operator and FGW among the worst operators. He also fails to mention the fines imposed on a number of his franchises by the Department for Transport (DfT) for poor service, overcrowded trains and high cancellation levels, undoubtedly a sign of things to come should they take over the West Coast franchise.
And as if to demonstrate how little research into the franchise Mr O’Toole’s team has performed, his suggestion that the WCML is ”fully rebuilt” defies belief. This is both surprising and extremely worrying.
Sir David Higgins, Chief Executive of Network Rail in an article in RAIL (March 2012) said: “I understand we took out major work at Bletchley and Watford Junction, we took out the upgrade of the overhead lines, remote asset monitoring, and a lot of the upgrade of traction power. Some of that is coming home to bite now, because of the way we’re pounding that line.”
Large sections of this route were last upgraded in 1966 and require major work now, which will include key junctions, overhead lines and traction power supplies. On top of this will be the significant disruption to service when Euston station is rebuilt for HS2.
It appears that First Group has prepared its bid on the mistaken assumption that the WCML has been fully rebuilt and has not properly taken into account the disruption HS2 will cause in the second half of the franchise.