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Rail travel


“ Given the fact that Virgin Trains came close to losing its contract, it is perhaps ironic that the operator is widely regarded as offering


the fl agship business service ”





encourage franchise winners to be more creative in enhancing the journey experience. There is a risk attached to innovation, but that’s what the corporate traveller wants to see. This is an opportunity to take stock, but it is a challenge.” The reality for most buyers is that many


rail journeys will be more expensive in 2013, with some even warning that travellers will consider switching to the car, or flying when that is an alternative. Buyers are increasingly questioning value-for-money and the total cost of the journey, including on-board purchase of food and beverage, and wifi access if this is not included in the fare. Given the fact that Virgin


months after re-launch, and by 31 per cent on the key Leeds-London business route. East Coast had to be temporarily


re-nationalised after two previous franchise operators, GNER and National Express, gave up their franchises as they could no longer afford premium payments to the government. Virgin warned that this could happen again if FirstGroup took over West Coast, and indicated it would never again bid for a rail franchise if this happens. It was widely rumoured


easingly questioning value for money and the total cost of the journey


incr“ Travel buyers are


Trains came close to losing its contract, it is perhaps ironic that the operator is widely regarded as offering the flagship business service, with high frequency, high punctuality and, in first class, free wifi, meals and drinks, and plenty of space to work. It’s interesting to note that the East Coast


route from London to Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland actually re-launched first class to look more like Virgin’s in May 2011, with meals included, and that has proved a major success. First class passengers increased by 21 per cent in the first 12





that FirstGroup planned to scale back catering on West Coast, and fit more seats into trains as happened on its Great Western franchise. The prospect of higher fares, less working space and having to pay for meals


in first class (as happens on First Great Western) is alarming business travellers, many of whom signed the e-petition calling for Virgin to be reinstated, which had raised over 174,000 signatures at the time of writing. All of which raises the question of what business travellers expect from a long- distance rail service, and what they are prepared to pay – especially as many travel policies now insist on standard class travel, which can be very crowded. Tom Stone, managing director of the


Pictured: National Express East Coast; Virgin Trains; Eurostar's Business Premier


 60 THE BUSINESS TRAVEL MAGAZINE


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