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Wednesday, October 7, 1998 Published at 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK


Virgin passengers get 'better deal'

Richard Branson has promised to improve services on Virgin Trains

Rail and bus passengers in 30 towns and cities are to get improved services in a new deal involving Richard Branson's much-criticised Virgin Trains.

An integrated transport package will include "no quibble" refunds for poor service and a number of special bus travel offers for rail passengers.

The improvements have been secured by Rail Franchise Director John O'Brien in return for his approval of bus company Stagecoach - which also owns South West Trains - acquiring a 49% stake in the Virgin Rail Group.

The changes, which were announced on Wednesday, include:

  • For an extra £1 on the price of a train ticket passengers will be able to travel anywhere within designated bus zones in 21 towns and cities.

  • Five new bus links to stations, various retimetabled bus services to link with train times and plans for further rail-bus links.

  • Higher performance standards and "no quibble" refunds for delays and cancellations.

  • More investment in rolling stock, including high-speed tilting trains which will be introduced early in the 21st Century and will cut journey times between London and Glasgow.

  • A new forum enabling passengers to have their say on service, timetables and ticket prices.

    Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott congratulated Mr O'Brien on getting a "better deal" for passengers using Virgin West Coast, Virgin CrossCountry and South West Trains.

    'Long-suffering passengers'

    Mr Prescott, who last week labelled Britain's railways a "national disgrace", said:"This is not a franchise renegotiation but it is an important step towards the kind of improvements I wish to see, and it will provide long-suffering passengers, particularly on the West Coast line, with early and much-needed improvements."

    [ image: John Prescott...wants to see more bus-train links]
    John Prescott...wants to see more bus-train links
    Mr Prescott, who is responsible for transport at Cabinet level, criticised Virgin's rail services after a number of Labour MPs were delayed on the West Coast Main Line while travelling to their party conference in Blackpool.

    Mr Branson's response was to describe the West Coast line as the most neglected and run-down route in the UK and promised to turn it into Europe's best within five years.

    The towns and cities benefiting from the combined bus-train tickets are Banbury, Basingstoke, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Darlington, Exeter, Gloucester, Lancaster, Leamington Spa, Manchester, Newcastle, Nuneaton, Oxford, Paignton and Torquay, Preston, Rugby, Sheffield, Stockport and Winchester.

    The five new bus links are Stratford-upon-Avon to Rugby or Coventry station, Bromsgrove to Birmingham International, Luton town centre and airport to Milton Keynes station, Hythe to Southampton and Buxton to Macclesfield.

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