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:
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.
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."
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.