In a dispute that has now been handed over to the courts, Virgin Trains has claimed that the awarding of the west coast main line to First Great Western opens the real threat of improvements to services. ‘As well as making train passengers happy, it also runs the risk of overturning years of tradition of high prices, late services and toilets you can’t use at the station’ claims Virgin.
In one of many interviews given over the last week by Richard Branson, he described the contract as ‘unfair and un-British’. ’With 12,000 more seats a day and fares being cut by 15%, all they are doing is improving a service we have gradually brought to its knees since 1997. We have worked hard to get the ‘Virgin’ brand to live up to its name – we have beautiful looking trains that tempt you, but when you eventually get on you realise we have no idea what we are doing.’
First Group has said it is not bothered by any legal action to be taken by Virgin, and that they wish to proceed ‘without delay or disruption’, an attitude Branson says is not that of a ‘real train operator’. Furthermore it was at great pains to point out that any of the alleged improvements are extremely unlikely to happen.
Transport Secretary Justine Greening has confirmed that the plans for First Group to take control of the line remain on track, and described the allegations that promises to improve services and reduce ticket prices saw them get the contract as ‘ridiculous’ . ‘We couldn’t care less if the trains run on time, or how much a ticket costs. MP’s journeys are claimed on expenses so we don’t give a damn. Our decision is based purely on the extra payments to the government from First Group. Branson was only offering shares in Northern Rock. We’re not that stupid – we’ve only just got shot of it.’
In a bid to get the Government to change its mind over the contract, Branson has now offered to run the line for free. ‘It is simple enough to do and it will keep the nation’s rail services where they expect it’ the softly spoken beardy continued. ‘We will offset the lack of public funds by reducing the amount of peak time trains, doubling the cost of a sandwich in the buffet cart, and increasing ticket prices at twice the rate of inflation. It’s what the British public expects and deserves.’