GNER boss: Virgin trains are better

The rail chief who denounced Sir Richard Branson's new Voyager train as "cheap and nasty'' has been forced to eat his words in a highly embarrassing internal memorandum.

The rail chief who denounced Sir Richard Branson's new Voyager train as "cheap and nasty'' has been forced to eat his words in a highly embarrassing internal memorandum.

Christopher Garnett, head of Great North Eastern Railways (GNER), has admitted that the much-criticised Virgin rolling stock which he claimed has "taken the fun out of train travel'' is rated much higher by passengers than his own trains.

Virgin's Voyagers operates on the sprawling CrossCountry network which has hitherto attracted rock-bottom ratings by passengers, while Mr Garnett's ageing vehicles run between London and Edinburgh in an operation which had been regarded as Britain's best long-distance service.

For the first time in its history GNER has been knocked off its perch at a time when Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, is about to put the franchise out to tender.

What makes matters worse for GNER is that Mr Bowker was responsible for commissioning the Voyagers while he was a senior director at Virgin.

In a startling admission Mr Garnett said that even with extra cleaning and refurbishment his rolling stock will "struggle'' against the allegedly cheap and nasty Voyagers.

In a letter to employees the GNER chief executive admits that his "greatest shock'' was that Virgin crews - battle-hardened by years of coping with irate passengers - were rated as more helpful and friendly that those employed by his company.

"Personally I don't believe this and personally my experience tells me otherwise from the feedback we receive," Mr Garnett wrote. "However, what is probably happening is that there is a halo effect from the Virgin new trains which affect the passengers' total perception of the journey.

"The sad truth is, however, that the perception really is reality and, therefore, we all need to pick up this mantle with vigour and take even greater responsibility for 'owning' our passengers' experiences when they are with us to reverse the perception that has been created.''

He admitted that his unexpected memorandum was a "real shout for help'' to his employees to help the company to regain its top spot.

He conceded that it was "unfortunate'' that news of his company's flagging performance was emerging at a time when his franchise was up for grabs.

"The fact that Virgin CrossCountry have now received higher scores than us sets us a big challenge and one that we have to rise to in the coming months,'' he said.

Mr Garnett is keen to replace his ageing high-speed trains, but has rejected any suggestion that the Voyager might fit the bill. He believes that any new long distance train should have a locomotive at the front rather than noisy under-floor engines which are known to irritate passengers over longer journeys.

Customers had complained that there was a lack of luggage space and toilet facilities on the Voyagers and that the food available in the train "shops'' was limited and expensive.

A spokesman for GNER said the letter was written to staff in an attempt to boost performance: "It was a mixture of encouragement and exhortation. We are confident of our record since GNER was established eight years ago, but certainly not complacent and that was reflected in the letter."

He pointed out that a possible bid for the GNER, tabled by Virgin, and Deutsche Bahn collapsed on Thursday.

A spokesman for Virgin said: "Mr Garnett's letter simply confirms what we have been saying for many months. We see Virgin CrossCountry becoming one of the pre-eminent long distance operators."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US