Government Insanity or Sour Grapes?

  oresome 14:03 15 Aug 2012

Sir Richard Branson has attacked the "insanity" of the Government after Virgin Trains lost control of the prestigious West Coast rail line that it has run for 15 years.

First Group has won the contract with a bid some £750M less than Virgins, which Sir Richard believes will result in First Group losing money and the Government ultimately taking back control.

This is not unprecedented. GNER and National Express have previously been stripped of contracts after failing to meet their obligations.

  Cymro. 14:11 15 Aug 2012

Some (including Mr. Branson himself)seem to think that just because it has the Virgin logo on it is a guaranty of instant and great success.

  namtas 14:40 15 Aug 2012

I believe that Sir Richard Branson as well as a successful business person is also a very honest caring person, time will tell, but I am sure that he has enough self awareness to realise that what he says today will be remembered tomorrow.
£750M is a huge difference in the bid, Virgin have the knowledge of actual costs and I don't think that they would just throw it away. Personally I believe it was a bid set to get the business at any cost. In a short time it will be found to be unsustainable and then we shall begin to see a poorer, more expensive service, but hey great news for the shareholders. Not good for the Public.

  interzone55 14:45 15 Aug 2012


Hardly instant success, Virgin have been running the West Coast line since 1997, and to be honest, they've been running it very well.

The trains are clean, fast, and well maintained. They also have a good buffet car service.

From what the union chap said this morning, it sounds like First Group are going to reap savings by introducing vending machines instead of a staffed buffet car.

What I'm having trouble understanding is where First Group will get their trains from, do they just take over the Virgin rolling stock?

  Forum Editor 15:01 15 Aug 2012

I really find it very difficult to understand how First Group can run the same service with such a huge reduction in the bid. I've used the Virgin trains a few times, and I agree with alan14, the trains were comfortable and clean, and the service was punctual. The food in the buffet car was good, too.

I have a feeling that someone in the government needs to learn the lesson that most of us in business learn - that cheap is not necessarily cheap in the long run.

The people who award these franchises should take a trip on the French TGV trains, and perhaps it would dawn on them that what passengers want are comfortable,clean, fast, punctual trains with a decent buffet service. If it costs a bit more to provide that kind of rail service passengers are usually amenable to see it reflected in the fare.

  morddwyd 20:28 15 Aug 2012

If the government were really "green" they would be subsidising the railways on a much more massive scale than at present.

Just think how many car journeys, and therefore pollution, are saved by even a half full train, and how many lorry journeys by freight trains.

The trains will never "make money" in the generally accepted sense, in these days of universal car ownership.

  Forum Editor 23:26 15 Aug 2012


"Just think how many car journeys, and therefore pollution, are saved by even a half full train"

In fact, passenger trains are far less efficient overall in terms of energy consumption than cars. The overall load factor on UK railways is around 35%, or about 90 people per train. This is because of the need for rail carriers to maintain an off-peak service. That means that lots of trains are running with very few passengers,and as a consequence the energy efficiency of the rail network as a whole is considerably reduced. Cars run only when their passengers need to travel.

Another factor is that over the years cars have become far more energy efficient, and trains haven't kept pace with that. Technical considerations involving rolling stock weights and the efficiency of steel wheels running on steel tracks mitigates against big gains in energy efficiency.

I think the situation looks better where trucks are concerned - trains can compete better with regards to energy efficiency

  morddwyd 08:30 16 Aug 2012

"passenger trains are far less efficient overall in terms of energy consumption than cars."

I made no mention of energy efficiency, only pollution.

Even if half of the cars have a passenger, by no means a given, 45 cars (using your figure of 90 per train), many of which will be petrol driven, will produce more pollution than one, albeit large, diesel engine.

  namtas 12:31 16 Aug 2012

"I think the situation looks better where trucks are concerned - trains can compete better with regards to energy efficiency"

In theory yes, but in reality they lose out on end of line delivery, trucks deliver door to door, trains usually require a truck to deliver the goods to a depot and then more trucks to collect and deliver, all this movement loading unloading is time and money.

  Forum Editor 13:00 16 Aug 2012


"I made no mention of energy efficiency, only pollution."

You're right, you did, but you're still wrong. A study of 11 forms of transport by the University of California looked into polluting emissions, and discovered that when all factors were considered, trains were by far the worst polluters.

To get a true picture of the polluting impact of various methods of transport you need to study them over a life-cycle. That means looking at pollutants produced during manufacturing of the vehicles themselves, and of the fuels on which they run. Do that, and you'll discover that trains pollute far more than any other form of transport.

  Forum Editor 13:02 16 Aug 2012


Thank you for the clarification - I hadn't considered off-train distribution energy costs.

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