It’s been a tough time, as we are all saddened by the news of our bid for the West Coast partnership being disqualified. While we continue to challenge this outcome and are doing all we can, I am so proud of the team, who are carrying on and working hard in the face of a difficult scenario.
I heard some fantastic stories from the team, including of dreams come true. Brad Joyce saw our Virgin Trains go past when he was a young boy and told his grandfather that one day he would work for Virgin Trains. He went off to university and when he finished he managed to get a job with Virgin Trains and has been with us ever since, working his way up to management. His energy and enthusiasm lit up the room and he is a great example of what makes Virgin Trains so wonderful – it all comes down to the people.
After working across the rail industry for more than two decades, it’s incredible to see what has been achieved in this time. So many of our people have been with us from the very beginning and have witnessed the transformation from a failing rail line to what it is today. One of these wonderful people is Wendy Garrett, who showed me a menu that she’d kept hold of from our first ever train service. It just shows how right from the start we wanted to do things differently, with a tasty food offering and great service.
Innovation has been at the heart of everything we do at Virgin Trains, and it’s paid off. We tripled passenger journeys from around 14 million in 1997 to nearly 40 million today. Customer satisfaction ratings have topped 90 per cent and ground-breaking initiatives like automatic delay repay, Beam, and Alexa have been introduced. Digital ticketing has been rolled out on all routes and Virgin Trains has also recently abolished peak restrictions on Friday afternoons.
It’s great to see this focus on innovation continuing and I was thrilled to hear all about the new split-ticketing app being developed by Virgin Trains. It will make sure that wherever customers are travelling across the whole UK rail network, they will be given the best ticket for the price of their journey. Gone are the days of having to purchase multiple paper tickets or having to change trains to get the cheapest ticket – this will all be done at the touch of a button.
The app, which is due to go live this year, will also feature an Oyster-style fares cap that will work out the cheapest fare for their journey retrospectively, ensuring they have the cheapest fare combination available. It will allow greater flexibility for travel – for example, someone has a peak-time return but ends up travelling off-peak, they would pay the lower fare. Alternatively, if a customer ended up making multiple journeys where a weekly season ticket would have been cheaper, the system will cap their fares at the price of the weekly ticket.
In the last two decades, we’ve been listening to what customers want and Virgin Trains have completely turned the service around. Virgin Trains is now one of the best train companies in the UK, if not the world and I couldn’t be prouder. A huge congratulations to the team.