• Our booking engine at tickets.railforums.co.uk (powered by TrainSplit) helps support the running of the forum with every ticket purchase! Find out more and ask any questions/give us feedback in this thread!

In your opinion - which TOC has been the most experimental and why?

Status
Not open for further replies.

py_megapixel

Established Member
Joined
5 Nov 2018
Messages
6,680
Location
Northern England
Deliberately open-ended question - this can be in terms of rolling stock, timetabling, branding, station facilities, or anything really! Including both current and past TOCs.

The experimentation also doesn't have to be positive - it can have been detrimental, or simply have gone absolutely nowhere...
 
Sponsor Post - registered members do not see these adverts; click here to register, or click here to log in
R

RailUK Forums

RHolmes

Member
Joined
19 Jul 2019
Messages
567
I don’t think you’ll find a better example of this other than Virgin.

- Tilting trains
- Striking livery
- Mix Match interior
- On-board shop
- Talking toilets

The list goes on!
 

Ianno87

Veteran Member
Joined
3 May 2015
Messages
15,215
Virgin were quite innovative with their timetable - creating the Euston-Birmingham-Scotland service, reinstating Shrewsbury, Blackpool and Wrexham by being creative with the diagramming of their fleet.

The original Midland Mainline TOC introduced the 4tph MML long distance service - the basic template of which survives today to some extent.
 

SteveM70

Established Member
Joined
11 Jul 2018
Messages
3,916
Caledonian Sleeper for (in principle) revolutionising sleeper travel. Obviously the reality seems not to match the marketing narrative though
 

Ianno87

Veteran Member
Joined
3 May 2015
Messages
15,215
Caledonian Sleeper for (in principle) revolutionising sleeper travel. Obviously the reality seems not to match the marketing narrative though

CS, other than their new stock, do seem (via Transport Scotland) a bit stuck in simply perpetuating the timetable offering basically inhereted from BR rather than trying different stops etc (only one I can think of is the Fort Bill portion calling at Queen Street Low Level vice Westerton, plus the brief weekend diversion to Oban)
 

Dr Hoo

Established Member
Joined
10 Nov 2015
Messages
4,016
Location
Hope Valley
Well, previous manifestations of Northern certainly tried to do a lot of things - a completely new tier of 'inter-urban' services ('Connect') or something; radical changes to train staffing/operation; new timetables to improve performance; getting rid of Pacers by 2018; re-staffing several stations; solving overcrowding.

The thing about experiments is that they aren't always successful as I discovered in school chemistry labs decades ago.

As to 'why'? The answer is surely, 'to win the franchise'.
 

nlogax

Established Member
Joined
29 May 2011
Messages
5,383
Location
Mostly Glasgow-ish. Mostly.
Virgin, for all of the reasons listed above. We can argue about chatty bogs all day long and I know some of you still seem to be allergic to their marketing - but no other TOC comes close to what they did for intercity travel.
 

mjmason1996

Member
Joined
12 Aug 2019
Messages
54
If We're going with Virgin for most experimental, i'd tender GNER as a close second, purely for running a regular timetable with Eurostar sets and returning one-off 89001 to service if nothing else.
 

jfisher21

Member
Joined
21 Mar 2011
Messages
218
CS, other than their new stock, do seem (via Transport Scotland) a bit stuck in simply perpetuating the timetable offering basically inhereted from BR rather than trying different stops etc (only one I can think of is the Fort Bill portion calling at Queen Street Low Level vice Westerton, plus the brief weekend diversion to Oban)

They did do a coach connection to Oban from Crianlarich, not sure if that is coming back.

I suppose they could extend the Fort William service to Mallaig and the Aberdeen service to Inverness, but no doubt it would only increase the losses!
 

Iskra

Established Member
Joined
11 Jun 2014
Messages
8,012
Location
West Riding
TP have been pretty experimental, introducing 3 new (and much better to travel on) fleets and 2 new services. We are yet to see the fruits of this however. It’s been a step change from regional express towards intercity style travel (in places) and has significantly enhanced capacity that was much needed.
 

Iskra

Established Member
Joined
11 Jun 2014
Messages
8,012
Location
West Riding
Disagree with that. I think the 185s were excellent; they just needed more of them.
They aren’t bad units, but they aren’t long enough, the door positioning isn’t great for comfort in winter, short units waste network capacity on busy routes and they are pretty heavy so hard to sensibly cascade in future.

Unfortunately many years of travelling on wedged 185’s has put me right off them.
 

superalbs

Established Member
Joined
3 Jul 2014
Messages
2,487
Location
Exeter
I'd have to agree with VT.

Special shoutout to GA for being the first to introduce the FLIRT to the UK too.
 

Ianno87

Veteran Member
Joined
3 May 2015
Messages
15,215
Might also add GTR. In May 2018 they basically re-thought their entire timetable from (almost) a blank sheet of paper, and got rid of quite a few historical service hangovers and complexities which were really holding back performance (after the initial post-change 'troubles')
 

Bletchleyite

Veteran Member
Joined
20 Oct 2014
Messages
98,301
Location
"Marston Vale mafia"
Has to be Virgin. Whatever you might think of them, for innovation nobody came close - and the end result was a pretty reliable TOC, too. Avanti have truly ruined it in a very short space of time, just like many of us thought they would.

(of course we mustn't forget their abject failure - XC - which has suffered from their poor choices ever since - so not all experiments work!)
 
Last edited:

Domh245

Established Member
Joined
6 Apr 2013
Messages
8,426
Location
nowhere
Might also add GTR. In May 2018 they basically re-thought their entire timetable from (almost) a blank sheet of paper, and got rid of quite a few historical service hangovers and complexities which were really holding back performance (after the initial post-change 'troubles')

Was that not more down to the Thameslink programme (née Thameslink 2000) than GTR specifically?
 

Carlisle

Established Member
Joined
26 Aug 2012
Messages
4,151
If We're going with Virgin for most experimental, i'd tender GNER as a close second,
Yes, there certainly was a particular period when that was true, in addition to your reasons, they had proper restaurant cars on most weekday services & planned to introduce tilting trains
 

Bletchleyite

Veteran Member
Joined
20 Oct 2014
Messages
98,301
Location
"Marston Vale mafia"
Chiltern arn't bad. New routes, loco hauled services.

I'm not sure I'd call them experimental, though. They did a lot, but it was very conservative - lots of Turbostar based vehicles (because they know they work), toned-down, inoffensive interiors, and second hand Mk3s (which seems to be an Arriva thing, possibly due to DB's like of LHCS?)

They did contribute to the construction of new routes, which I don't think any other TOC did, but they were conservative choices that were obviously going to work.

This, to be fair, is very fitting with the area in which they primarily operate. The "stockbroker belt" is both mostly conservative and mostly Conservative! :)
 

Ianno87

Veteran Member
Joined
3 May 2015
Messages
15,215
Was that not more down to the Thameslink programme (née Thameslink 2000) than GTR specifically?

That provided the infrastructure - GTR recasted the timetable to take good advantage of it.

But that wasn't just limited to Thameslink routes themselves - the whole Southern metro area was conpletely recast with new service patterns at the same time, such as removing metro splitting and joining, operating a more standardised service all day, etc etc which gave a marked improvement in performance.
 

Bald Rick

Veteran Member
Joined
28 Sep 2010
Messages
29,261
Was that not more down to the Thameslink programme (née Thameslink 2000) than GTR specifically?

The Thameslink programme enabled it (and provided the trains), but GTR came up with the structure of the new timetable across the whole franchise.


However, to answer the OP question - Virgin, no contest.
 

dosxuk

Established Member
Joined
2 Jan 2011
Messages
1,789
Probably a contraversial one, but Central Trains. The regional railways network they inherited was a mess of routes, stock and timetabling, but very quickly they introduced new stock and standardised the service patterns and timetables, turning it from a network where you had to check a timetable to know if there was going to be a train to one you could near enough turn up and go on.

Yeah, there were plenty of downsides to this, with lots of staffing issues and many places losing once a day services to far flung places, but overall they ended up with a much more reliable resilient and popular service than they started with.
 

Doctor Fegg

Established Member
Joined
9 Nov 2010
Messages
1,853
This, to be fair, is very fitting with the area in which they primarily operate. The "stockbroker belt" is both mostly conservative and mostly Conservative! :)
Chiltern's biggest off-route expansion has been to Oxford which is definitely not Conservative!

MML is surely the most transformed TOC compared to the BR service; an entirely new semi-fast service with the 170s which became a massive success. Central Trains is a good call, too.

Other TOCs have had adventurous moments too - W&W's long-distance services, ATW's adventures with steam in the Graeme Bunker era, FGW aggressively growing the market here in the Cotswolds. Against that I find it very difficult to get excited about Virgin WC, who were essentially running the same route as BR, just with sleeker trains.
 

tbtc

Veteran Member
Joined
16 Dec 2008
Messages
17,882
Location
Reston City Centre
Deliberately open-ended question - this can be in terms of rolling stock, timetabling, branding, station facilities, or anything really! Including both current and past TOCs.

The experimentation also doesn't have to be positive - it can have been detrimental, or simply have gone absolutely nowhere...

Has to be Virgin. Whatever you might think of them, for innovation nobody came close - and the end result was a pretty reliable TOC, too. Avanti have truly ruined it in a very short space of time, just like many of us thought they would.

(of course we mustn't forget their abject failure - XC - which has suffered from their poor choices ever since - so not all experiments work!)

Great idea for a thread.

Looking at the OP's definitions, I'd argue that Cross Country has a good shout for being the second highest in a list of "innovations" (West Coast being the clear winner) - they inherited the dregs of BR's "InterCity" operation and replaced them with a fully new fleet, turning a mess of services into a clock face timetable - it's easy to forget now how ambitious the first version of "Princess" was - bi-hourly to Dundee/ Cardiff etc - before being scaled back to something more manageable.

I suppose one difference is that the Government allowed West Coast to order additional trains and extend existing ones, whilst the Cross Country franchise was never given the same permission to expand their fleet - e.g. when TPE took over the Manchester - Scotland bit of VTWC the Voyagers freed up went to beed up the Chester - London service rather than going to XC where they were more needed.

I'm not saying it all worked, clearly not, but the difference is that some TOCs got a second chance to get things right once their first attempts were translated into passenger numbers - but XC didn't have the Government backing required to allow them to build on the boosted passenger numbers that they were struggling to accommodate.

Hard to know with some other TOCs how much of it was due to the minimum requirements in the franchise documents and how much of it was due to genuine TOC innovation (and I think that sometimes we can over-egg the benefits of a once-a-day extension of a London service to put some provincial town on the map) but credit to Midland Mainline for doubling the number of services from London to the East Midlands (every forty five minutes thirty years ago, every half hour at privatisation, four trains per hour under National Express's franchise).
 

Bald Rick

Veteran Member
Joined
28 Sep 2010
Messages
29,261
Against that I find it very difficult to get excited about Virgin WC, who were essentially running the same route as BR, just with sleeker trains.

A lot more frequent trains, quicker trains, with more routes, with a completely different (and much better) customer service proposition, that grew the market 3 fold (or was it more?)



ATW's adventures with steam in the Graeme Bunker era

Didn’t end well for him, though.
 

Philip

On Moderation
Joined
27 May 2007
Messages
3,650
Location
Manchester
Has to be Virgin. Whatever you might think of them, for innovation nobody came close - and the end result was a pretty reliable TOC, too. Avanti have truly ruined it in a very short space of time, just like many of us thought they would.

(of course we mustn't forget their abject failure - XC - which has suffered from their poor choices ever since - so not all experiments work!)

Why have Avanti ruined Virgin's work?
 

Ianno87

Veteran Member
Joined
3 May 2015
Messages
15,215
Could also add 'Innovations that didn't quite work out' - such as North Western Trains's Euston services, or the Anglia Railways Crosslink service.

Anglia did innovate with the introduction of the Norwich-Cambridge service, plus the through Lowestoft/Peterborough-Liverpool Street services (subsequentlt cut back)
 

306024

Established Member
Joined
23 Jan 2013
Messages
3,950
Location
East Anglia
Could also add 'Innovations that didn't quite work out' - such as North Western Trains's Euston services, or the Anglia Railways Crosslink service.

Anglia did innovate with the introduction of the Norwich-Cambridge service, plus the through Lowestoft/Peterborough-Liverpool Street services (subsequentlt cut back)

The Lowestoft/Peterborough-Liverpool St service was as a result of the NXEA franchise bid, not Anglia Railways, who of course were merged with First Great Eastern and the WA part of WAGN to create NXEA.

As for the Orcats raiding Crosslink service, innovative is the best word to describe it. There were other adjectives at the time.
 

charley_17/7

Member
Joined
1 Sep 2006
Messages
195
Location
Milton Keynes Central
Probably a contraversial one, but Central Trains. The regional railways network they inherited was a mess of routes, stock and timetabling, but very quickly they introduced new stock and standardised the service patterns and timetables, turning it from a network where you had to check a timetable to know if there was going to be a train to one you could near enough turn up and go on.

Yeah, there were plenty of downsides to this, with lots of staffing issues and many places losing once a day services to far flung places, but overall they ended up with a much more reliable resilient and popular service than they started with.
I'd agree with CT, especially with their fares policy with 'Under a Fiver', 'Under a Tenner', etc, which made the pricing memorable and attractive, especially for competition with the car.

Just never come on a Sunday. The amount of grief I got as a dispatcher when I had to explain the Liverpool-Norwich was a bus!
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Top