Standing on long rail journeys to be banned under Virgin Trains plan for airline-style fare

duncanp

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Don't know if anyone has seen this article in the Daily Telegraph this morning.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/23/standing-long-rail-journeys-banned-virgin-trains-plan/

Standing on long train journeys will be effectively banned under radical proposals by Virgin Trains to force all long-distance passengers to book a seat before boarding.

Train companies are currently often obliged to accept walk-up fares, meaning they have no control over the number of people getting on a particular train unless it is deemed unsafe.

But under the plans for airline-style fares with one fare available at any given time for any one service, walk on tickets and open returns will be phased out.

The rail operator, which is the largest provider of long distance train journeys in the UK, has submitted the plans to the Department for Transport which is currently reviewing how train companies make money and sell tickets.

In its submission to the Government-commissioned Rail Review, Virgin Group said some of its trains are so packed that passengers are forced to stand for several hours, while others are mostly empty.

It called for ticketing to be simplified by including dynamic pricing, which would lead to higher prices for popular trains and lower prices for less popular trains.

The hope is that this will result in a more even distribution of passengers across services, with fewer over crowded and empty services and more moderately full ones.

A Virgin spokesman said the new system could potentially allow the operator to put on more frequent trains at busy times of year, such as Christmas and Easter, to make up for the fact that fewer people will be allowed on the busiest services.

Virgin Group also wants the franchising system for long-distance routes to be replaced with an auction for train slots, in a similar way to how airlines secure the right to operate flights from airports.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "What Virgin are proposing is a de-regulated free for all where private train operators slug it out on the most lucrative routes on a slot-by-slot basis.

It would lead to total chaos with passengers trapped in a transport nightmare of escalating fares where prices rise by the minute according to availability.

"Virgin are actually proposing a version of the broken rail franchising model pumped on steroids when what is really needed is an end to this nonsense and public ownership of our railways."

The Rail Review is being chaired by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams, and his inquiry will conclude in the autumn.

Virgin Group's submission was written before the recent decision by the Department for Transport to disqualify Virgin Trains' bid to continue operating West Coast Main Line services due to a row over pensions.

Its recommendations are "more pertinent than ever given this news", according to Patrick McCall, a senior partner at Virgin Group.

He said: "Keith Williams has said that franchising cannot continue as it is now, and it is clear we need systemic industry reform which is driven by principles and a whole-system redesign.

Indeed, it is highly questionable whether any franchises can be let sensibly, or robustly, as things stand.

"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."
I can't see this working, as it would mean the West Coast Main Line, and others like it become like the French TGV system, where reservations are compulsory, but those who have a flexible ticket can change their seat reservations at the last minute, subject to availability.

As someone who lives in Birmingham and travels frequently to London on Virgin, I rather like the idea of trains running every 20 minutes and the ability to arrive at New Street or Euston and get on the next train.

What does everyone else think?
 
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JonathanH

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How would this work? At what point is a train on the West Coast route a local train and when is it a long distance one? Is pre-booking required from Euston to Milton Keynes, Birmingham to Coventry, Warrington to Crewe?
 

ivanhoe

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Of course it could work. Ability to get print at home tickets and selling tickets up to last minute can work. RENFE do it.BUT
Will probably need multi tickets if not travelling point to point.
End of Savers as we know them

What would be termed Long Distance?
Would it include TPE trains and say Liverpool Norwich?

It works in Spain because they don’t run as many trains as we do.
Season ticket flexibility would be affected.
I don’t have a problem with the idea, but I’m an occasional user.
 

a_c_skinner

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It would need check in staff at each station. It would also need enough capacity or the will to turn away passengers.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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Maybe this kind of thing was in the WCP bid that Virgin have now been excluded from.
Helped by partner SNCF who operates TGVs that way.
It's very likely indeed that all the WCP bidders will propose that way of operation from Euston on HS2 services (ie reservation only and no standing).
The VT proposal simply rolls that out onto the rest of the WCP network.

It will probably lead to more pick up/set down only calls and TOC-specific tickets, just as TER passengers can't board the next train if it is a TGV.
In competition terms it would be just like booking a seat on EasyJet and Ryanair, and you pay the price offered on the day (or not).
I'm not sure about the "running extra trains to meet demand", because there won't be idle trains lying around, any more than BA had spare Shuttle planes.
SNCF have, by our standards, very low utilisation of their TGV fleet, and can turn them out at peak days/times/seasons.
We tend to work our fleets to death every day, so nothing is spare.

The proposal on auctioning paths is not new, and might be under consideration by Williams.
It would be one way of Virgin getting back into operating trains without the hurdle of a full route franchise.
Some EU states are heading in that direction, eg with Italo in Italy and Westbahn in Austria.
It essentially turns everything into Open Access.
 

JonathanH

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How do they plan to get rid of regulated fares?
Quite easy - influence the government to change the fare structure by indicating that it would be a popular change or reduce the cost of the railway to the taxpayer - isn't a version of these proposals in the RDG plans anyway?
 

jagardner1984

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The attack on the saver fare is the real story here. But relatively simple machines could be fitted at stations for those already with tickets.

Insert ticket.
Clarify destination (if ticket destination isn’t a Virgin Trains stop)
Display next 6 services to that destination. Grey out full services. Select desired service.
Offer available seats (if any).
Select and print ticket reservation.

Of course this relies on some “live” updating reservation system, that is fairly robust.

Personally for journeys that can be 5hrs +, I don’t think they should be selling tickets where no seat is available. So long as some simple system like the above protects those with rovers/savers/flexible fares, I am all for this.
 

Bantamzen

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I think for me the key statement is:

He said: "Keith Williams has said that franchising cannot continue as it is now, and it is clear we need systemic industry reform which is driven by principles and a whole-system redesign.

Indeed, it is highly questionable whether any franchises can be let sensibly, or robustly, as things stand.
This is another example of operators becoming increasingly impatient with the franchising system as it stands, and marks another company clearly sounding out that they want change or they might exit stage left leaving the DfT to pick up the pieces.

Now I now this won't be a popular proposal on here, but airline style pricing & marketing is clearly something on at least Virgin's radar for long distance services, and I would not be surprised if other long distance operators will be keeping a keen eye on this review. And for at least some long distance travellers, not including those that commute daily over long distances, being assured of a seat & perhaps having the ability to buy upgrades in a similar fashion to some airline operators will be popular. The problem is how to separate these passengers from those that use long distance services for regular commutes.

This will rumble on for a long time, but as I keep predicting on here there is an increasing risk that the franchising model is going to collapse, with many major operators becoming less keen to commit to bids within the restrictions of the requirements set at Whitehall. This should be a wake up all for the Minister & his Department that radical changes are needed, or if they cannot be delivered re-nationalisation, either partial or complete will be needed, and we all probably recognise how deeply the current administration are against the latter.
 

sdrennan

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I travel often Glasgow to Euston but this would be a negative in my view. It takes away the flexibility that I use compared to flying.

With planes I am very restricted to timing which means I have to plan for later flight just in case.

On trains I book the one I intend to catch but am able to catch earlier train if my meeting finishes early. An option to go to a machine and change would work for this, however my timing is tight and a delay on the tube could mean I miss the booked train. No mobile service means I can't change.
How would this work as my seat would now be empty. Would I have to buy a new ticket
 

ivanhoe

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It would need check in staff at each station. It would also need enough capacity or the will to turn away passengers.
They don’t at Valencia when going to Madrid. Enough technology around to get over that. The most important check is on board, as it should be.
 

Bantamzen

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I travel often Glasgow to Euston but this would be a negative in my view. It takes away the flexibility that I use compared to flying.

With planes I am very restricted to timing which means I have to plan for later flight just in case.

On trains I book the one I intend to catch but am able to catch earlier train if my meeting finishes early. An option to go to a machine and change would work for this, however my timing is tight and a delay on the tube could mean I miss the booked train. No mobile service means I can't change.
How would this work as my seat would now be empty. Would I have to buy a new ticket
This could be resolved even minutes before a service was due to leave with a simple application of an online change function, allowing you to move your seat allocation from the original service to an earlier one where available. With planes there is the added complications of security procedures plus generally much lower capacity, meaning that a lot if not all of the time this flexibility isn't possible.
 

dk1

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No thanks. Prefer the freedom to go where I want when I want & more than happy to stand the entire journey if I choose. Long live walk on rail travel throughout the UK National network. Virgin Trains do not have much longer in this world anyway.
 

southerner

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They don’t at Valencia when going to Madrid. Enough technology around to get over that. The most important check is on board, as it should be.
I took Ave from Valencia to Madrid about 8 months ago and it was baggage scan and gated platform with pre-board ticket checks. Albeit cursory. Has this changed?
 

jimm

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How would this work? At what point is a train on the West Coast route a local train and when is it a long distance one? Is pre-booking required from Euston to Milton Keynes, Birmingham to Coventry, Warrington to Crewe?
Quite. The idea that local passengers could be barred from West Coast services running on the Coventry-Birmingham-Wolverhampton axis is laughable. They are a critical part of providing the capacity needed to shift the number of passengers there, due to the number of paths they eat up on what is essentially a two-track railway.
 

dk1

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Quite. The idea that local passengers could be barred from West Coast services running on the Coventry-Birmingham-Wolverhampton axis is laughable. They are a critical part of providing the capacity needed to shift the number of passengers there, due to the number of paths they eat up on what is essentially a two-track railway.
Soon as they are told they will therefore not have any share of the massive Coventry-Birmingham-Wolverhampton farebox & im sure their attitude will change :lol:
 

Hadders

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This is very, very bad news. There's no point in 3 trains an hour if you're limited to one booked train only.

What happens if the train is cancelled?
What happens if a connecting service is delayed?

Consider the 06:16 from Euston to Manchester. Pretty empty on leaving Euston but it calls at Stoke on Trent at 08:00 becoming the train for Stoke commuters as it arrives at Manchester at 08:28. It's wedged.

Would passengers boarding this train at Stoke need a reservation?
If Stoke passengers aren't allowed to board it what trains would they use (the rest are full)

There are loads of similar examples to this one.

My worry is that Virgin (or any other long distance train operator) will run a passenger survey which will give them the answer they want (eg. 'would you like to see the end to standing on long distance trains'). The DfT, who we all know don't understand how to run a railway, might then agree to implement saying that 'it's what passengers want'.

We need to be very, very careful.....
 

ivanhoe

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I took Ave from Valencia to Madrid about 8 months ago and it was baggage scan and gated platform with pre-board ticket checks. Albeit cursory. Has this changed?
No, the point I was making that scanning of ticket by the staff, was not an onerous task. The baggage scanning, which doesn’t happen on all routes, was as a result of the Madrid atrocity, a number of years ago. I just don’t get this comparison with airline travel . I know in general, I have to be at an airport two hours before travel. I was at Valencia station 20 minutes before travel, and could have easily been 10 minutes.There are pros and cons for the Virgin proposal and I know the proliferation of many companies in our system makes it less easier than RENFE have it. It could work though .
 

Essan

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One of the big advantages of long distance rail travel is that you don't need to know weeks in advance exactly which service you will be catching - and can change plans if necessary whilst still holding a valid ticket (assuming an open return)
 

paddington

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I've been on extremely crowded trains from Scotland to London.

I was happy to have the choice between getting on a train to stand/sit on the floor for 5 hours, or waiting around for 30 mins / 1 hour / 90 mins for a less crowded train.

If fares are going to be airline-style I would rather take an airline, flying London to Scotland is actually more convenient for me (depending on whether I need to bring things that are not allowed in hand luggage on planes)
 

thejuggler

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This is very, very bad news. There's no point in 3 trains an hour if you're limited to one booked train only.

What happens if the train is cancelled?
What happens if a connecting service is delayed?

Consider the 06:16 from Euston to Manchester. Pretty empty on leaving Euston but it calls at Stoke on Trent at 08:00 becoming the train for Stoke commuters as it arrives at Manchester at 08:28. It's wedged.

Would passengers boarding this train at Stoke need a reservation?
If Stoke passengers aren't allowed to board it what trains would they use (the rest are full)

There are loads of similar examples to this one.

My worry is that Virgin (or any other long distance train operator) will run a passenger survey which will give them the answer they want (eg. 'would you like to see the end to standing on long distance trains'). The DfT, who we all know don't understand how to run a railway, might then agree to implement saying that 'it's what passengers want'.

We need to be very, very careful.....
This is where you need to read and comprehend what is actually written in the press release - as always it is very carefully nuanced.

"Standing on LONG train journeys will be effectively banned"

"Force all LONG-DISTANCE passengers to book a seat."

It will not lead to the end of standing on long distance trains. Long distance trains call at stations which are close together so pre-booking won't be required if you use a long distance train for a short journey - Stoke to Manchester for example - no operator could afford to do it.
 

Megafuss

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Virgin have at least come up with a solution, one which I think could be implemented in some way at busy periods.

I genuinely feel for the the folk that have pre-booked tickets at intermediate stations (in effect telling the TOC "I am travelling at this time") and can't get on due to those with opens blocking gangways and vestibules. For example this weekend on the ECML between Edinburgh and London.
 

Hadders

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This is where you need to read and comprehend what is actually written in the press release - as always it is very carefully nuanced.

"Standing on LONG train journeys will be effectively banned"

"Force all LONG-DISTANCE passengers to book a seat."

It will not lead to the end of standing on long distance trains. Long distance trains call at stations which are close together so pre-booking won't be required if you use a long distance train for a short journey - Stoke to Manchester for example - no operator could afford to do it.
How the hell is that going to be managed or enforced?
 

MarlowDonkey

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One of the big advantages of long distance rail travel is that you don't need to know weeks in advance exactly which service you will be catching - and can change plans if necessary whilst still holding a valid ticket (assuming an open return)
It wasn't clear but they may have wanted to abolish open returns as well. It might be able to make it work on a service with limited stops such as HS2. To preserve flexibility, it would need to be possible to book your seat as the train pulled in. That assumes you already had a ticket and might rule out dynamic pricing unless you had a minimum cost coupled with a supplement for busier trains. I'm thinking Smart Phone app, not that requiring compulsory use of this for rail passengers would be a problem in itself.
 

irish_rail

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Frankly I'd rather stand than find I've been allocated a zero legroom aisle seat with no window by it. This would be an utter disaster , luckily it has zero chance of getting off the ground, except perhaps when HS2 rears its head.
 

Bletchleyite

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Pretty sure they've been proposing this as an idea since 1997.
The original XC proposal was, I believe, for three classes (hence three accessible bogs) and compulsory reservations.

I think it's likely we will end up with that kind of system for HS2. But before that, now VRG is to come to an end, they're going to propose anything that can get them a few extra quid - witness the Weekend First price hikes.

They won't necessarily get what they want, however.
 

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