It has taken Virgin ten years to knock themselves into shape on the north-south route which passes through Oxford. We now have a reasonable service, with comfortable modern Pendolino trains, and an overall punctuality of 84.9 percent.
In the week in which South West Trains were reported as having instructed their on-board staff to screw the customers for full fares even where ticket offices (where discounted fares could be obtained) were closed, I heard a Virgin guard spend 20 minutes helping a passenger find the cheapest fare for a complicated journey (sorry, heard a “train manager” help a “customer”). We have grown quite fond of Virgin on Oxford.
So it is no surprise at all that the Government has taken the franchise away from Virgin XC and given it to Arriva whose experience is limited to Wales. Arriva won for one reason only – their bid involved the lowest subsidy from the Government. They have threatened to increase fares by 3.4 per cent above inflation and are proposing to use 30 years old trains taken out of mothballs in place of the modern, fast-accelerating Pendolinos.
So, stuff the passengers, screw the quality of service, bugger any idea that the railways are a key element in any strategy to entice people out of their cars. Give the franchise to whoever pays the most for it or keeps the subsidy lowest.