Ban standing on long distance journeys and apply airline ticketing model, Virgin say

Virgin Trains has called for an end to peak and off-peak tickets and the start of an airline-style model for long-distance operators in a bid to put an end to standing on trains.

Responding to the much-anticipated government-commissioned Williams Review, which was established to recommend the most appropriate organisational and commercial reforms to UK rail, Virgin is calling for long-distance services to be operated along similar principles to airline routes.

The switch would see the implementation of a reservation-only system that guaranteed every customer a seat in normal operations and would see operators competing against each other via slots that they own indefinitely.

The move would be a major shake-up for the sector with companies currently accepting walk-up fares and thus little control over the number of people getting on a particular train, unless health and safety measures were breached.

Virgin Trains claim train overcrowding and complex ticketing could be a thing of the past, while the customer experience would be improved and fares cut under radical ideas proposed.

The firm’s contribution come after the Williams Rail Review was launched by the government in September to consider reforms which would better serve train customers and taxpayers. 

Plans were drawn up before Virgin was disqualified from bidding for franchises after 2020 - including the chance to run its flagship West Coast Main Line service from London to Glasgow which it has done so since 1997.

Despite this, Patrick McCall, senior partner of the Virgin Group, said the review offered a “once in a generation” opportunity, urging the review’s chairman, Keith Williams, to back “fundamental and bold reform”.

McCall said: “This will not be an easy fix. Every option will have downsides and there will be some difficult decisions to be made. But there should be no dogmatic fixation on models or ownership. Instead, we must develop a system which optimises the benefits for passengers, taxpayers and communities and which enables train companies to evolve as the world evolves around them. We must be both visionary and pragmatic.”

Other recommendations: 

  • A modified, devolved and longer-term franchise system for short distance commuter routes which would be integrated with devolved infrastructure management by local governmental bodies
  • A more positive development environment for stations
  • Creation of a single independent and strategic regulator

Former chief executive of British Airways Keith Williams who is heading up the review into UK rail reform is expected to unveil proposals later this year.

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