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Express & Star comment: Affordable travel is important

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

What do you want from your train journey?

Virgin Trains have lost the West Coast Main Line franchise

A seat would be nice for starters – and many of our readers will have experienced journeys where it has been standing only.

First Trenitalia, and yes you did read that correctly, is offering more than a mere seat when it takes over the West Coast Main Line rail services from December.

You will get comfy seats, understandable fares, more services, a spruced up rail environment, and so on.

As it takes over from Virgin, whose bid for the next franchise was kicked into touch after a row over pensions, it is not short of promises to passengers.

After all those years under Virgin, whose boss Sir Richard Branson has blogged that he is devastated to have lost the franchise after showing “the rest of the industry how it should be done for more than 20 years,” local passengers are now to get some of the Italian touch, as First Trenitalia is an Anglo-Italian group.

It takes the driving seat at exciting times for the railways. As we are being told that there is a climate change emergency, the need for efficient train services is greater than ever.

With Brexit looming, it is not just a matter of self respect that Britain should aspire to have a train network which is the envy of Europe, but an economic necessity, and the Midlands will be looking to be playing its full part as a central powerhouse.

Then there is HS2. The new kids on the block will be responsible for developing HS2 between London and Birmingham up until 2026, and then managing the line until 2031. HS2 has proven highly controversial, and is certainly very costly, so a lot will rest on the group’s shoulders as it is entrusted with ensuring it is a soaring success.

First Trenitalia’s attractive promises are the easy bit, and the delivery is the crucial bit. In this regard – real world journeys – Virgin Trains has set a high bar. A few weeks ago Virgin recorded the highest passenger satisfaction rating of any franchised train operator in Britain. The passenger satisfaction rating was 91 per cent.

It will not matter if First Trenitalia runs the best services in the world if nobody can afford to travel on its trains, so the fares structure is going to be key, as has been demonstrated by the protests against the rise in the price of season tickets.

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