Thursday 27 November 2014

East Cost??

Only one story today and that is the rather unexpected decision by Her Majesty's Government to award the new franchise to operate the East Coast Main Line to a consortium of Stagecoach and Virgin. This is the same consortium that has run the West Coast Mainline for the last 9 years, and will be known as Virgin Trains East Coast. Yesterday the smart money was on Eurostar winning the franchise, and before that First were rumoured to be getting it as compensation for losing the Scotrail franchise a couple of months ago.

91125 at Kings Cross in July. Expect big livery changes with new franchise
 The government is promising the usual extra services, more seats and reduced running times as the result of this franchise. And it has to be said Virgin have a pretty good track record (sorry couldn't resist it) when it comes to delivering improvements. They almost overnight transformed cross country travel in the early 2000's with the introduction of the Voyager trains. I went on one in their first couple of weeks and loved it. I went on one three weeks ago and it really didn't feel its age.

A Virgin Trains Voyager passes through Dawlish in Devon
 Virgin were also responsible for introducing the tilting trauins on the West Coast Mainline. The Pendolinos were seen as almost revolutionary and considerably reduced journey times between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland. I confess I still haven't been on one and really must put that right at the earliest opportunity!

A tilting Pendolino
And now as part of the franchise Virgin Trains East Coast will introduce no less than 65 new Intercity trains, built by Hitachi at their factory in County Durham which will be introduced between 2018-20. Until then the entire fleet is to be refurbished, which seems a bit pointless for 3 years so expect those refurbished coaches to be cascaded elsewhere once the new trains arrive. Perhaps we will see Class 91 sets on the GEML in the future.

New services are planned for Huddersfield, Sundlerand, Middlesbrough, Dewsbury and Thornaby, with extra services elsewhere on the route.

However I have my doubts about all this and it stems around cost. There is a commitment to reduce Standard Anytime fares by 10%. However it doesn't say when from and fares will be rising in Januray again in any case. With East Coast in Government hands it will have been run more on a not for profit basis. So let's see how much it costs to go London to Edinburgh on East Coast compared with London to Glasgow Virgin West Coast. I'll compare prices travelling tomorrow, a month's time and two months time. I'm typing this as I find the fares so could easily look an idiot but it's meant to be entertaining!

Virgin West Coast

London Euston - Glasgow Central depart 28/11 return 1/12   total cost £108.80
London Euston - Glasgow Central depart 27/12 return 29/12 total cost £94.80
London Euston - Glasgow Central depart 30/1   return 2/2      total cost £42.00

Actually that's not bad but suppose I got an emergency call tomorrow morning and had to get up there quick with no chance of buying online in advance. If I travel off peak a Standard Single from London to Glasgow is £129.60 and if I have to leave early it will cost me a staggering £176.00

Now for East Coast and it had better be cheaper or I'm going to look a right numpty!

East Coast

London Kings Cross - Edinburgh depart 28/11 return 1/12 total cost £115.40
London Kings Cross - Edinburgh depart 27/12 return 29/12 total cost £128.60
London Kings Cross - Edinburgh depart 30/1   return 2/2     total cost  £62.70

A standard single is £151.00 but that does come with a free 1st Class upgrade assuming there are seats available.

So as you can see I'm a numpty, and contrary to what I thought West Coast is cheaper in all but the anytime standard single. Which means of course that knocking 10% off the price really won't mean that much at all. Of course I could go into season tickets and all that but really can't be bothered!

So I change my tact - will Virgin Trains East Coast  make their advance fares as attractive as West Coast. It will be interesting to see.

Of course one thing that I am disappointed over is when I saw Stagecoach mentioned I hoped that they might extend their Megatrain services to include East Coast.That is obviously not going to happen but Megabus  remain by far the cheaper option if you have the stamina for it.


  1. Steve, have you just knocked a rather big whole in the Labour party/Union argument that the state Direct Trains operation of East Coast is better for passengers? I suspect you and First both think the industry is overpaying for these franchises. I'm not so sure. I was concerned when Virgin/Stagecoach noticed the defect in the original West Coast tendering which First didn't. It smacks of someone not quite on the ball, and that impression has increased with time. I think Stagecoach say it all with the word "passion". I've compared First in the past to the maiden aunt, tightly clasping her purse, which I know annoys everybody (especially at First). But the old saying is speculate, to accumulate. Like the rest of life, it's all about judgement. I'm not sure everybody else has got it wrong.

    In other news I was interested to see that Whippet chose new boys Tower as the "fit" for their company ethos. Bet their eyes never lingered on First. And perhaps that's symptomatic of the trouble, no-one wants to get into bed with them? I know we all get worked up about the paint jobs. But seriously? Is that all? I'm not sure it's something they'd bat a eyelid at, in the rest of the country. Anyway, if down in Essex, Tower want to bat more than an eyelid (after all it's between London and Cambs) then anything to sort out the sclerotic management! First might yet regret that sale. Or not. It was always an amazement to me that they seemed to think of themselves as a rail company first and a bus company second. I'd prefer being master in my own house.

  2. Ugh, of course it's a hole not a whole. Back to those literacy classes for me!

  3. Well exactly, Smurf, which is why I didn't edit the post as I was writing it, as I wanted my own surprise to be conveyed. I truly expected a State owned railway to be cheaper, but then as we know there are no greedier people on the planet than politicians perhaps I should have been my usual cynical self. I just hope that Virgin bring the advance purchase prices on the East Coast down to match those of the West Coast as right now the cheapest way to get from London - Edinburgh in 2 months time by rail is to go Virgin to Glasgow then local train across to Edinburgh.

    Whippet is retaining its own brand for at least 5 years from what I understand, and I presume that was a major clause in the selling requirements. I can't believe someone like First would have agreed to something like that.