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Monday, September 20, 1999 Published at 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK


Business: The Economy

Virgin Trains price rise 'insult'

Richard Branson's Virgin Trains have come in for strong criticism

Virgin Trains are to put up ticket prices by nearly nine times the rate of inflation, making them the most expensive in the UK.

The increases in standard and first class tickets, which come into effect on 26 September, average 9% - compared with an inflation rate of 1.1%.

The new fares will mean Virgin ticket prices have risen up to 43% in two years.

A standard ticket from Stafford to London will rise from £84.50 to £92.50, while a ticket from Birmingham to London goes up from £70 to £76.50

The Midlands Rail Users' Consultative Committee criticised the price rises as an "insult".

Virgin Trains justifies the rise by the fact that it faces a £28m cut in government subsidies this year and profits were being put into buying a new fleet of faster, tilting trains to improve journey times and reliability.

Poor record

MRUCC chairman Dr Peris Jones said it was "horrified" to see the latest round of fare increases "so far above the level of inflation", particularly as Virgin Trains' performance had been poor.

He said: "(Virgin's) West Coast services have met punctuality targets only once during the past year, whilst CrossCountry services met the target during one four-week period only since privatisation."

Dr Jones also said the Midland's rail watchdog was dismayed by Virgin Train's time restrictions on Saver and Supersaver tickets for CrossCountry services.

Passengers who need to travel during restricted periods would be unable to buy discounted tickets, he said.

Dr Jones said that, while Virgin Trains offered "very reasonable" fares to passengers booking ahead, there were problems with availability on those cheaper tickets.

He said: "We welcome Virgin's future plans to improve the frequency and speed of both West Coast and CrossCountry services, but asking passengers to pay increases of this magnitude for the quality of service they are presently receiving adds insult to injury."





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