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Monday, June 21, 1999 Published at 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK

Business: The Company File

Virgin Trains steams ahead despite delays

Unpunctuality fails to dent Virgin Trains' profits

Pre-tax profits have doubled for Richard Branson's Virgin Trains - despite its rail services being among the most unreliable.

A recent report showed that Virgin's West Coast and CrossCountry services failed to achieve targets for reliability and punctuality. On Monday, however, the company defended its £28m profit figure for 1998-99 as "very modest".

A spokesman for Virgin Trains, a privately-listed company, said: "This pre-tax profit figure is very modest in terms of turnover of £500m.

"All the profit is being poured back into the business in which we are investing £4bn over the next few years."

But Jonathan Bray, campaigns director of pressure group Save Our Railways, said:
"Passengers will wonder how it is that Virgin's shoddy performance can be rewarded with a doubling of profits.

"Today's news makes Richard Branson's task of redeeming his image with rail travellers even harder. Our advice would be to ditch the hype, provide a quality service and get the new trains in service as soon as possible."

Investing serious money

Virgin said its figures should be seen in the light of the reduced subsidy it was receiving from the government.

The spokesman added: "It should also be remembered that our subsidy was reduced by £20m last year and will be reduced by a further £30m in 1999-2000.

"Passenger numbers have increased on the back of very competitive ticket sale offers. We are investing serious money and passengers can expect to see the benefit of this in two to three years."

Virgin Trains' revenues increased by nearly £100m to £490m as more passengers used the service.

Statistics last month from the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (Opraf) showed that many of the UK's 25 rail companies offered a worse service in the first three months of 1999 than they had a year ago.

Opraf divided the companies into five categories, A-E, according to their reliability and punctuality figures.

Complaints at record high

Virgin's West Coast routes were in the second from bottom category with at least 80% punctuality and 98% reliability.

The CrossCountry service was in the lowest category achieving less than 80% reliability and 97.9% reliability.

A separate report, published earlier this month, showed complaints about the service offered by the privatised rail companies leaping to a new high.

The number of complaints made by travellers rose by 27% last year, with reliability, punctuality and overcrowding topping the list of moans.

The Central Rail Users Consultative Committee (CRUCC) said passengers were continuing to suffer under the privatised network - with punctuality deteriorating on two-thirds of routes.

The committee said passengers were continuing to suffer under the privatised network - with punctuality deteriorating on two-thirds of routes.

Virgin CrossCountry was singled out by the CRUCC as being among the worst performing operators with 20.3% of its trains being delayed, compared with a national average of 9.3%.

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