Virgin West Coast Open Access Application

Discussion in 'UK Railway Discussion' started by andyj158, 11 Jun 2019.

  1. 700007

    700007 Established Member

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    I disagree with this - if you have money to run both of them and they're financially viable ventures then I say go for both! Blackpool North and the Fylde Coast is a market that's only been tapped into recently and I can definitely see it be one of the markets that grows the fastest in the north west in the next few years.

    Also worth noting that there would be nearly no point in doing this, as I understand it, the paths offered for the GNWR service leave Euston at xx:33 and the Virgin OA service at xx:36. No point having two trains to Liverpool within 3 minutes of each other with the same / similar calling patterns. Would be overkill and I can't imagine the demand is that strong at present. This is in addition to the WMT service at xx:49 and WCP (the current Virgin Trains) service at xx:07.
     
  2. CosherB

    CosherB On Moderation

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    I think you’re mixing up two stories into one!
     
  3. Sandy2

    Sandy2 Member

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    Perhaps they're speculating (for whatever reason) that the GNWR open-access services won't go ahead. Safe to say that it's gone very quiet...
     
  4. Marton

    Marton Member

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    And I’m sure it was VTEC which introduced the evening restriction on Off Peak returns Monday to Thursday from KX
     
  5. Marton

    Marton Member

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    Spot on
     
  6. Pumbaa

    Pumbaa Established Member

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    No - BBC NWT were reporting earlier today that MTR consortium had won the West Coast Partnership.

    Should note it’s not confirmed or substantiated...

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00cpbm9
     
  7. 700007

    700007 Established Member

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    Heads up, this is a long post. Read time somewhere in the region of under 10 minutes. Sorry about that!

    The more I think about this, the more respect for Virgin I gain about this particular venture. Whilst I'm not a Virgin fan boy or anything close to it, there's so many layers to what has just happened today and I think this is a game changer for the rail market. It's a massive political statement and also an attack on other West Coast operators. The main weapon they've used here is purely data and knowledge they've gained in 20 years.

    I can't help but think of a more cynical plot behind this, but I could honestly be reading between the lines too much. If we look at this in detail in how they managed to potentially create this service and also what their motives are:
    • They're in it for the long run, and no matter how many attempts you try to get rid of them from the West Coast they'll use any means possible to use this iconic and flagship line to continue making a profit in the Virgin Rail Group business.
    • This is also a political statement to the DfT and trying to prove that their proposal for 'airline style' travelling experience (with compulsory reservations, no walk-on passengers) works that they submitted to the ORR a few weeks ago. This OA service effectively acts as a test-bed, and if this does work, they'll try push this agenda onto any future franchises they accumulate through the DfT - however short or long away that is.
    • From running the franchise for 20 years they know that London to Liverpool has had insufficient capacity in recent times. Up until the latest timetable change, such a big city and region was only being serviced by 1 train an hour. They knew there was untapped demand and that running a service to Liverpool would make a killing in terms of revenue. I'm interested to see whether this demand will be sufficiently met as this new, current timetable has brought a new 1.5 trains an hour (very complex timetable introduced by WMT) going direct from London to Liverpool at £12 advance singles. The obvious advantage here is that Virgin has the direct route to Liverpool and won't go via Birmingham.
    • However, this is also interesting because they've made a pledge to be the cheapest service in the market by at least 10% against all other operators. This means going from London to Liverpool is going to have to cost £10.80 on advance tickets if they want to compete with West Midlands Trains. I imagine this price for obvious reasons would work well and could sell like hot cakes, but will this cover the cost of operation? Will their supply meet demand?
    • This is also another jab at West Midlands Trains, who are obviously their cheap and cheerful rivals and have been for 12 years. The two of them have been on political warfare for the past decade trying to compete with each other. They've seen immense success on their Trent Valley service and are taking measures to add capacity where possible (8-car trains instead of 4-cars, and rumours of a new Northampton to Crewe via Trent Valley service to make 2tph along the Trent Valley). This means demand is outweighing supply here and that Virgin Trains could effectively provide the shortfall in supply at a competitive price if they want price-savvy customers to take them seriously.
    • They also have a strong hunch here that the application will be successful. The stations were chosen very carefully in this application. This is partially knowledge not just gained in-house, but also the fact that the original GNWR application from London to Blackpool North originally proposed calling at Nuneaton, Tamworth and Lichfield Trent Valley in 2015. This was approved by the ORR. However this fell through as they weren't able to source the stock needed to operate the service in time. When they did, it wasn't the anticipated 125mph stock and instead stock that was limited to 110mph. To compensate for the shortfall in speed and to maintain a competitive journey time they cut out the stops at Tamworth and Lichfield Trent Valley. Virgin know that it *should* be a shoe-in to get ORR approval for services to stop at Tamworth and Lichfield Trent Valley and pass the revenue abstraction on that front.
    • The stations chosen also were carefully done to try and pass revenue abstraction too. Stopping at the likes of Milton Keynes or Crewe, whilst popular interchange stations, are probably nearly guaranteed to fail here. West Midlands Trains operates 3 trains an hour in and out of Crewe, of which two continue to London and Liverpool and Northern, albeit an indirect service, also operates 1 train an hour to Liverpool Lime Street. The WCP franchise holder will also have trains that stop at Crewe going to Liverpool and London. Nuneaton, Tamworth and Lichfield Trent Valley don't have a 'direct' service to Liverpool Lime Street outside of the peaks, although you can buy cheap advances (and even day returns) to go Liverpool from these stations. The inclusion of a Liverpool South Parkway call can act as an advocate for better connections to London and the Trent Valley (for which there is a 4h direct service to London or no direct service to the Trent Valley).
    Milton Keynes is also to be serviced by the revised GNWR service and therefore would become a) more difficult to stay competitive whilst making a profit as there would be four providers from London. This could cause a loss to the OA service if they stop here at Milton Keynes. b) overkill, quite frankly. Supply is exceeding demand here.​
    • Alstom were included in this bid because they have a maintenance facility in London which is where I am presuming these trains will be maintained. They may also be able to supply some existing trains (class 180s anyone? :)) and overhaul / maintain them for the first few years before swapping out to class 390s post-HS2. Given their good relationship in supplying and maintaining the Pendolino trains and also more recently during the rocky times helping out on the Southeastern bid, this is their way of retaliating and trying to cash in on the UK rail business. This will also help reduce the overhead costs when setting up this business, which is what may allow them to get away with making claims such as '10% cheaper than our competitors'.
    Lots of political and brave business moves made here and it's actually very interesting to watch. I still maintain that it's unrealistic to see this launch in 2021 with the lack of capacity and suitable rolling stock but I genuinely am interested in seeing how this pans out and will listen closely to any developments made.
     
  8. Wolfie

    Wolfie Established Member

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    ... and if they do that without good cause they will also be litigated against. ..
     
  9. Wolfie

    Wolfie Established Member

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    It may well be their safety net in case they lose their litigation against DfT.
     
  10. Wolfie

    Wolfie Established Member

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    As such it could probably potentially be sold if rights were granted and the litigation is successful.
     
  11. thenorthern

    thenorthern Established Member

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    Given that its unlikely that they will be able to achieve a 125mph speed they will be effectively offering the same as what London North Western are offering just passengers will have to book in advance, I wonder if the guaranteed 10% fare reduction will be of the walk up price that London North Western offer or the advanced fares.

    Somehow I don't think this proposal will work.
     
  12. frodshamfella

    frodshamfella Established Member

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    If this happens, i think calling at Liverpool South Park is a really good move, big areas of South Liverpool would find it massively easier to depart from here rather than Lime Street. I predict much more car parking would be required.
     
  13. Camden

    Camden Established Member

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    The current level of service between London and Liverpool is and has been for many years far too low and should have been made up to half hourly a long time ago. As a user of the service (who avoids it where possible) I would love for this to be true.

    Sadly, I doubt it will be allowed to happen, no matter what anyone thinks about the sincerity of the intent.
    • The recent works to Liverpool Lime Street provided room for an extra 3 services per hour, 2 of which will soon already be accounted for with the third earmarked for an additional Welsh service. Where will the extra services fit into this, without further work? The DfT seems allergic to spending national cash in Liverpool, and the local authorities likely haven't got it to front up especially after paying the majority for the last overhaul themselves.
    • The recent refusal of the various paths requested so far, and the increasing and unresolved capacity constraints between Weaver Junction and Liverpool.
    • HS2 - providing a half-hourly service is HS2's "big sell" to Liverpool. The DfT won't a) ever want to admit that HS2 was never necessary to provide that and b) reduce the benefits they can point to down to nothing. The existing proposal is already seen locally as a faulty data based affront of political design.
      • Even the finally agreed to extension of the slow Crewe - London services was only allowed to go ahead through the extension of the time uncompetitive via Birmingham and Northampton services, rather than the much faster ones originally asked for many years ago.
    The cynic in me would nod to the reality that any promise to put right some wrongs done to Liverpool would go down there very well. And the opposite true for anyone who chose to stand in the way of that. I can't see the various obstacles being overcome.
     
    Last edited: 12 Jun 2019
  14. whhistle

    whhistle On Moderation

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    Did the Virgin Manchester to London flights ever take off?
    Or was that just a rouse to threaten them not winning in 2012?

    Can't help but draw similar comparisons here.
     
  15. whhistle

    whhistle On Moderation

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    I suspect many current Virgin staff would easily leave the West Coast operation and perhaps not even bother to work their notice period.
    Training on new stock would be the key pinch point, apart from the obvious paths problem.
    If there was brand new stock, training would be delayed anyway.
    If it's existing stock, training could potentially start straight away.
     
  16. whhistle

    whhistle On Moderation

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    But this "competiton" doesn't really work in many industries.
    Look at the energy and fuel (petrol/diesel) competition. One company raises prices and so do the others.

    To be fair on you, mobile phone's work in your favour as competition is rife.
    Broadband used to be but these days prices are getting ever higher - even if you don't need/want the high speed!

    The WC already has some good competition with LNR, and XC in some parts.
    There are many other lines that need competition first - GEML, MML to name two.
     
  17. whhistle

    whhistle On Moderation

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    And this is perhaps how they'll win staff from WCP.
    No silly starting times if there are no trains before 8am.
     
  18. StaffsWCML

    StaffsWCML Member

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    LNR Abellio aren't really 'good' competition though, they are a laughing stock even more so after the new timetable. They are 'cheap', that's about all I can give them. Cross country are pretty awful too.

    The whole network needs proper competition, they trains should be specified by the operators and not interfered with by DFT. I think the bidding for routes option could work, maybe with limits to stop certain bidders taking all the best slots. That way TOCs don't have to work to time limits. they can invest properly and the best providers will get the most customers.

    The current system is rubbish.
     
  19. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Yes, but in all seriousness that will get sorted out[1], and with the increase in use of splitting websites highlighting things like the change at Crewe onto the Trent Valley saving you a packet they will only get more popular. And even with the debacle, they are very cheap. You are already seeing a lot of people with cases on these through services, so clearly people are using them for long journeys.

    [1] OK, there's no prospect of Northern getting fixed any time soon, but once things start affecting Home Counties-London commuters - which this debacle is, badly - they get very visible very quickly.
     
  20. whhistle

    whhistle On Moderation

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    Or the 700s 707s?
    They'll be new trains and while are similar to the Desiro, different enough to look new and swish.
    But still not fitting with the Virgin image.
     
    Last edited: 12 Jun 2019
  21. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    707s you mean? Hardly. Commuter EMUs with doors at thirds are just not their image. Yes, I know, door prejudice. But prejudice is a very big part of image.

    It'll be new and 125mph, even if it can only run at 110 on parts of the WCML (tell you what, I'd pay good money for it to be one of those new TPE WCML CAF units, bar the seats). Though Alstom's involvement might suggest tilt.
     
    Last edited: 12 Jun 2019
  22. whhistle

    whhistle On Moderation

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    You mean they're not your definition of "good"?
    Price is what drives a lot of people; in that respect, they're excellent!

    The (WCML) trains are generally clean, you don't see many delays but again being objective when delays do occur, they tend to cancel left right and centre. Unless things have changed in the last couple of years?

    If they're that bad, why are some of their trains nearly always packed?

    They're also taking huge steps to speed up the Crewe service (although London Midland did a lot of this).
    Just because they're not your beloved Virgin, doesn't mean they're a waste of space.
     
  23. whhistle

    whhistle On Moderation

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    Now that would be interesting (if Virgin bought the whole rail arm of Arriva).
    I wonder if Virgin could rebrand all the trains as "Virgin" - although I suspect they'd leave Northern as Northern and get rid as soon as they can.
     
  24. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    See the thread on that subject - punctuality and reliability have gone through the floor with the new timetable with no prospect of improvement any time soon.

    FWIW, the approach always differed either side of Brum - cancellations on the south WCML were very, very rare, with "run it all but late" the preference, while on Brum-Liverpool cancellations have long been very common to bring things back on time.
     
  25. Jorge Da Silva

    Jorge Da Silva Established Member

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    Virgin are only interested in the InterCity market in the UK not commuter but It would be nice if GNWR and Virgin became one company.
     
  26. StaffsWCML

    StaffsWCML Member

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    Clean?! Have you been on one recently? They are filthy dumps.

    The seats are often sticky/gummed, rubbish on the floor daily on the Crewe/Liverpool service. I found a newspaper from last week yesterday, put it in the bin for them.

    They are cancelling a terminating in different places all over at the moment.

    The trains are packed because they are cheap. If you want to get to London or are going a few stops locally its the best option in terms of cost. I suppose most leisure passengers are willing to suffer dross. Its like if you go in Poundland on a Saturday. Just because the yare full doesn't mean they are in anyway good.

    Quite frankly I would much rather go in a car, if cities didn't rip you off for car parking.

    Its funny how we are encouraged to accept such average dross. If we want garbage we should being back BR! At least they had some personality and were our dross.

    They serve a purpose as a low cost budget train for those who don't care how long it takes, if they will ever arrive as long as it is cheap. Its Abellio unique place in the market.

    I would like to see more and better competition on the railways with a better more varied choice of operators.

    If for instance my London Midland train decides not to turn up at around 7am, I can decide to get on the next TOC that does arrive. The incentive to deliver a service would/should lead to better results.
     
  27. Dr Day

    Dr Day Member

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    Out of interest, how does 'not primarily abstractive' get calculated for something like this?

    My reading of 'compulsory reservations' is that the new OAO operator is not accepting inter-available tickets and that all ticketing will be pre-booked, including on the day bookings by app immediately prior to boarding, subject to availability. Or if it is accepting inter-available tickets that will be tied into a reservation so they have data to be able to 'claim' for the exact proportion of the passengers they have actually carried, not rely on the ORCATS algorithm for their share?
     
  28. ForTheLoveOf

    ForTheLoveOf Established Member

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    You raise an interesting point. I would be surprised if they rejected the sweet, sweet 'nectar' of ORCATS revenue by only allowing their own Advances, as this is one of the primary revenue streams for OAOs. On the other hand, if they let people use interavailable tickets, with the reservations being the determinant of their share of the revenue, they may actually end up earning less than they would if they followed HT & GC's method of accepting interavailable tickets without reservations.

    It's certainly a novel approach that doesn't really fit into the by now antiquated ORCATS paradigm.
     
  29. coppercapped

    coppercapped Established Member

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    An interesting analysis.

    I would add that Alstom have recently opened a 'technology centre' at Widnes which would be very convenient for maintaining trains serving Liverpool in addition to any London based facility. Alstom has also been looking at re-entering the rolling stock supply business in the UK since it dropped out after the Pendolinos and Class 458. This may be another, unspoken, aspect to consider.

    In the political/regulatory field there the Williams Review is on-going which may well suggest changes to, or abandonment of, the franchising system as currently operated. Such an Open Access application may be seen as the opening shot in a longer campaign.

    Network Rail is in the process of setting up a route structure with the published intention of getting decision making closer to the 'coal face'. It may well be that these new management areas will be more flexible and may encourage more business. Time will tell.

    But, in the round, I think the timing of this application is interesting - whatever the DfT may say, the number of actual and threatened legal actions against it must give it cause to wonder whether it is getting it right. The nice thing about Open Access is that it is the train operator who gets to decide what is offered and what is not and can modify his offer as required without having to get the DfT's permission to change some aspect of the franchise terms. Obviously the operator has to follow the laws of the land and all the railways' specific rules and regulations - but essentially its the operator who is responsible. The civil servants at the DfT will not like to see their influence reduced - 'the man in Whitehall knows best'.

    I wonder how it will all pan out?
     
  30. Dr Day

    Dr Day Member

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    Maybe not? ORCATS revenue brings with it ORCATS passengers, potentially lots of them at times you don't want to carry them. And as OAO you have no say on the price of the inter-available fare (set by the West Coast operator, and in the case of the Off Peak Return, regulated). If Virgin OAO have sufficient confidence in their product and pricing (including ticketing arrangements, transfers of reservations etc) that they think people will buy their dedicated tickets rather than inter-available ones (or other operators' Advances) maybe that makes better business sense for them?

    Without repeating all the issues raised on another thread, this gives them full control, and customers a further option - the flexible, walk-up tickets aren't being got rid of as they will still be there on the franchised services.
     

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