Virgin's 148 days of `no rail service'

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The Independent Online
VIRGIN TRAINS, the railway subsidiary of the ballooning billionaire Richard Branson, provided "no effective service" for a total of 148 days across different parts of the network over the past year.

The extent of delays and hold-ups on sections of its empire was so severe on these days that Virgin declared them "void" - which means they do not counted in government performance tables. The tables are used to determine whether season-ticket holders are entitled to discounts because of poor service.

In exchange for this opt-out, the train company has to give monthly season- ticket holders a day's extension or arrange similar compensation. But regulators are concerned the void-day rule means the performance tables do not give a proper guide to service levels.

Figures published by the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, showed that Virgin declared 148 days "void" over the 12 months to November 14.

Its flagship West Coast main line from London to Glasgow contributed 120 of these days - 36 on its West Midlands routes, 37 on its North West Group and 47 for Scotland. Its CrossCountry network of InterCity services, which do not go via London, declared 28 days void.

Virgin said it had been affected by extremely poor weather, such as flooding in Scotland last Christmas and in the Midlands at Easter.

Across the rail network a total of 343 days were declared void. Other "voiders" included Central Trains with 48 days, Silverlink, the north London and Home Counties commuter service, with 39, and Great Western Trains with 27.

The Transport minister Glenda Jackson said the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (Opraf) would include the number of void days in its next quarterly bulletin of train performance, due in February. The last bulletin showed reliability and punctuality fell below levels achieved by British Rail.

They showed Virgin triggered discounts on three route groups. More than a quarter of West Coast Scottish trains were late, while more than 15 per cent of West Coast North West and Virgin CrossCountry were late. These did not include void days. Monthly figures published tomorrow are expected to show an improvement.

Virgin produced its own passenger charter this month, which offers vouchers worth 25 per cent of the ticket price for passengers delayed an hour, and the full price for those delayed by two hours.

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