Only travel if you have a booked seat

By | Category: Travel rumblings

At present, a rail review is being undertaken for the government.

image of Virgin West Coast trains
Virgin Trains – they suggest you cannot travel unless you have booked a seat

Recently released is the submission that Virgin Trains has submitted to the enquiry. Written before it lost the ability to bid for franchises, it doesn’t contain polemics against the government but it does have some rather thoughtful ideas.

Lest you think that trains are basically used by commuters on their journeys to work and back, trains are one of the biggest providers of visitors for days-out  as well as taking large numbers on week-long holidays in the summer, Easter getaways and bank holiday trips. Anything that might improve the lot of the tourist is to be welcomed.

The headline grabbing proposal Virgin makes that every seat must be bookable on long distance services has some benefits but there are some problems with it. Holidaymakers going away for a week or so or a weekend away would probably book seats. But what if you decided that day that you would go away for the day because the weather was an improvement of what had been forecasted? Under the Virgin suggestion you wouldn’t be allowed on certain trains because you had no booked seat.

If you have booked and you miss a train, do you have to buy another ticket? That is what can happen with missed airline flights.

Will the proposals end overcrowding on trains?

With long distance trains, one of the problems is passengers joining the train and taking short journeys. Thus it is possible that those taking longer trips have to stand on busy services. Try taking the 19.15 out of Paddington in London to Swansea. Often I have had to stand until Swindon because it is full of commuters journeying just to Reading or Didcot. The 17.43 service from Euston to Glasgow is another busy service as is the 17.09 from Birmingham to Aberystwyth. That last service is full of commuters leaving their offices en masse who just want to travel as far as Wolverhampton or Telford after which you stand a chance at getting a seat.

Wouldn’t an easier solution be to make long distance trains travel a hundred miles or so before the first stop. But train companies would probably object to that as they would be losing business from commuters. 

Virgin suggests that the current rail franchise system be ditched in favour of a bidding system, similar to that used at airports. It would work by bidding for arrival and departure slots (times) at the larger railway stations meaning that perhaps as many as four or five different rail companies could operate on the same route. If this was to encourage true competition and cheaper fares I would be in favour of trialling it. Perhaps this could take place on the East Coast line since it is government run  as a result of the collapse of yet another franchisee on the route.

Another suggestion from the company is that ticket pricing alters depending on the popularity of a timed service. Less frequented trains would be cheaper than busy ones but that usually means the times are inconvenient for passengers. Even if there were trains running at two in the morning, would you want to travel on one?

In the press coverage, much was given to the proposals of Virgin but crass headlines seemed to suggest that Virgin Trains wanted to end passengers standing.

Now that the company has been removed from the franchise process will the government take any notice of its thoughts?

What ideas do readers have for improving our rail services?

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