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Sunday 13 February 2011

Another Open Letter To Simon Hoggart

Dear Simon,

I was disappointed to see that your Saturday Guardian column has made the mistake of taking a Daily Mail article as fact. The account of what happened to the Spacey family on their journey from Coventry to London recently has been published by the Mail, as have various characterisations which I would expect any Guardian writer to avoid.

As someone who has clocked up tens of thousands of miles with Virgin Trains (VT), I have encountered many of the company’s Train Managers, yet cannot recall any who fit the clumsy “bully” caricature. Nor, even on the occasions when I have made adverse comment on their service, has the organisation been other than correct and proper in its response.

In any case, the National Rail Conditions Of Carriage [.pdf] is quite specific about tickets that specify a particular train: boarding a different train means that the full standard fare is due. This covers all train operators on the National Rail network – not just VT.

A Virgin Pendolino train hurries through Tamworth

In fact, VT were a late convert to this idea, still offering a full range of tickets on board years after GNER, the operator much loved by many of your fellow hacks because of their restaurant car offering, had adopted a rigid “full standard fare only” policy for on-train purchase.

Also, you fall into the “Richard Branson personally deals with everything at Virgin Trains” trap: Branson has no operational involvement with Virgin Rail Group, so the idea that he appointed any of the staff involved in this incident is fatuous.

The Spaceys failed to present a valid ticket for the journey they made, and declined to pay for one, so the demand that they do so is understandable. The account presented by BBC Radio 5 Live shows that they knew they were boarding an earlier train, thus contradicting the Mail article’s assertion that they did so by mistake.

Added to all this will no doubt be statements from the police officer and PCSO who met the train at Euston, together with the VT staff involved, along with CCTV footage from the train. That VT are not yielding to the Spaceys should tell you something about the evidence they have to hand.

I do hope you can manage a more accurate portrayal of the UK’s train operators in the future.


Tim Fenton

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