I received the news this morning that the Department for Transport (DfT) has decided to disqualify our bid for the West Coast Partnership. This means that Virgin Trains could be gone from the UK in November.
I am devastated for the teams who have worked tirelessly to make Virgin Trains one of the best train companies in the UK, if not the world. Virgin Trains has led in the industry for more than 20 years and we wanted this to continue for many more years.
Running the railway comes with many challenges and the West Coast Main Line was struggling when we took it over, but we were determined to turn it around. With new trains, new track and our incredible team, we have become renowned for the award-winning way we look after our customers.
Virgin Trains is consistently at the top of the long distance franchised operators for customer satisfaction – receiving a 90% customer satisfaction rating in the National Rail Passenger Survey. We have almost tripled passenger journeys – from around 14m in 1997 to nearly 40m today – and introduced ground-breaking initiatives like automatic delay repay, Beam, and Alexa. Drawing on the expertise we’ve gained over the past two decades in the UK, Virgin Trains have also recently launched in the US and we are working to transform rail travel there too.
We’re baffled why the DfT did not tell us that we would be disqualified or even discuss the issue – they have known about this qualification in our bid on pensions for months.
Our first priority is always to look after our teams. The pensions regulator has warned that more cash will be needed in the future, but no one knows how big that bill might eventually be and no responsible company could take that risk with pensions. We can’t accept a risk we can’t manage - this would have been reckless. This is an industry-wide issue and forcing rail companies to take these risks could lead to the failure of more rail franchises.
We have significant concerns over the latest developments and their implications for the future of the UK rail market. We are still looking closely at the decision and we are now considering our options.
I want to thank all our teams for their hard work and dedication. It’s not easy working in the midst of uncertainty. Let’s continue to bring the Virgin magic to train travel that only we can.