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Sunday 5 February 2012

A Further Open Letter To Simon Hoggart

Dear Simon,

You do love to attribute anything done by companies in the Virgin group to Richard Branson, and especially Virgin Trains (VT), where Daily Mail attack hackery for once becomes inalienable fact. That VT has its timetable specified by a Government department and has to make as much money for the Treasury (or cost as little as possible in subsidy) does not seem to trouble you.

And, by comparing VT from London to Manchester with Amtrak from Chicago to New Orleans, you’re hardly taking a like-with-like parallel. VT runs every twenty minutes each weekday: Amtrak runs once. VT averages more than 90mph, Amtrak less than 50. Your cost comparison uses the fare for travelling Coach with Amtrak, but this is an overnight train, and most passengers will also pay for a sleeper berth.

Moreover, outside the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak do not own the road, so are at the mercy of operators whose priority is their own freight services. Delays running into hours, rather than minutes, are commonplace. Unlike London’s Euston terminus, Chicago’s Union Station is not connected to the city’s rapid transit network. And New Orleans Terminal, with just three daily trains, isn’t quite Manchester Piccadilly.

In any case, if you have no problem with Amtrak levels of speed, getting from Euston to Manchester will cost you rather less than paying full whack with VT. Choose the slower London Midland service, change at Stoke on Trent or Crewe, and that price per mile comes down to around 11p. You even get to do the last lap with VT. They are actually cheaper on some journeys (don’t ask).

And just in case you think VT’s full fare is exceptional, check out how much East Midlands Trains will charge at busy times to take you from London to Sheffield. Or how much East Coast – at present operated by H M Government – will charge for London to Leeds. Of course, rail travel could be made cheaper, but that would mean more subsidy being stumped up by the taxpayer.

That decision is a political one, down to Young Dave and his fellow jolly good chaps rather than Richard Branson. Right now, it’s unlikely to be high on the Coalition agenda. But you do still have the option of a frontal assault on the M6, an even more expensive air option, or an interminable National Express experience, for your journey to Manchester.

The choice, as Our Graham used to say, is yours.


Tim Fenton


Anonymous said...

In fairness to Hoggart, he's spot on about Mistletoe and Wine.

Bryan Pready said...

Agree completely, Tim. I really don't understand why Simon Hoggart moans non-stop about VT. Doesn't match my experience.