Network Rail has some explaining to do after a full day's over-run on engineering work near King's Cross
We hadn't planned to file a blog over the holiday period but as series of extremely unfortunate incidents on our railway cannot pass without a comment.
Yesterday afternoon (December 26th) Network Rail announced that engineering work between Finsbury Park and London's normally busy King's Cross station would over-run. It's a message many of us have heard many times but the over-run would not be a few hours it would be a full day. How can Network Rail get it so wrong? This was only a two day job so a full day's over-run is pretty dramatic.
Something has gone amis. The Government is sure to call Network Rail to account and they want the same answers that we all do:
What has gone wrong?
Was the work poorly planned?
How can a two day job over-run by a full day?
Do Network Rail fully understand its own assets?
Today was set to be an extremely busy day with East Coast, Hull Trains and Grand Central all reporting large numbers of reservations on their trains. Now they, and Great Northern, have no way of getting trains into King's Cross. The closest they will get is Finsbury Park which hardly has the capacity to cater for the thousands of passengers who will be travelling today. But not all trains will reach Finsbury Park - some will get no further south that Peterborough. East Coast is limited to two trains an hour from Finsbury Park to Newcastle/Scotland. Passengers from Leeds having to use a shuttle service which will only reach Peterborough where they will have to change for another train to Finsbury Park.
The train operators are getting massive 'flack' but the problem is not of their making and many would have had to call in their control and planning teams yesterday to draw up the special timetables and staff rosters. Hardly a good end to their Christmas break.
Now I hear from a former colleage Phil Haigh that London's Paddington ststion has failed to open on time after engineering work and the latest estimate is that trains will not run until after 11:30.
These two over-runs along have wiped out any positive PR that Network Rail has gained for its army of engineers who had given up their Christmas to undertake major engineering projects across the UK's railway system.
There are many arguments for and against the 'big bang' engineering operations. They are disruptive, but if the are planned and executed well, the disruption is contained within a few days rather than dozens of smaller weekend line blockages. But for them to work Network Rail has to understand its assets well to ensure that their are no surprises that will delay the work. It also needs to ensure that its engineering operations are planned well as well as building the contingency into the work period. It is not acceptable to fail to hand back the railway to the train operators when it should be.
Network Rail has some explaining to do. This is not the first time there have been problems. As a Press Manager with Virgin Trains I remember well the massive engineering over-run at Rugby in 2008 and throughout the last year there have been numerous reports of enginering over-runs on the Great Eastern Main Line.
So come on Network Rail. You must understand what went wrong and learn from your mistakes. This situation must not be allowed to happen again.
East Midlands Trains MD David Horne to head Virgin Trains East Coast
The head of the new company which will take over responsibility for running rail services on the East Coast mainline next year has been confirmed today (22 December 2014) by Stagecoach and Virgin.
David Horne, currently Managing Director of Stagecoach-owned East Midlands Trains, has been appointed to play a leading part in the mobilisation and transition arrangements for the new InterCity East Coast franchise which is to be operated by Stagecoach and Virgin from March 2015.
He will take up the role from next month and, subject to the commencement of the franchise award as envisaged, would become Managing Director of Virgin Trains East Coast when the franchise starts.
David has more than 25 years experience in the rail industry, having started his career in 1988 as a ticket office clerk in Cornwall. He has also held senior positions within South West Trains and Virgin Trains.
David led the successful bid on behalf of Stagecoach for the East Midlands Trains franchise in 2007. In his time at East Midlands Trains, David has been responsible for delivering the UK's most punctual long distance services over a five year period which has also seen significant increases in customer satisfaction. East Midlands Trains was named Passenger Operator of the Year at the National Rail Awards earlier this year.
David (42) currently lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two-year-old son.
Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stagecoach Group, said: "We're now well underway with putting our plans in place for the new Virgin Trains East Coast franchise and we're pleased to be announcing David's appointment.
"David has a wealth of experience of the railways which will be invaluable as we prepare to launch the new franchise.
"East Midlands Trains has been a great success, and I am very proud that under David's leadership it has maintained an unbeaten record as the UK's most punctual train operator and was recently named Passenger Operator of the Year.
"I am confident David will be a great addition to the East Coast team and will use his experience to make Virgin Trains East Coast a huge success.
"I would also like to pay tribute to Karen Boswell, who has been Managing Director at East Coast over the past five years. In challenging circumstances Karen has ably led a team of 3,000 committed employees and ensured we have a good platform for our future plans."
Patrick McCall, Senior Partner, Virgin Group, said: "We are looking forward to taking on the East Coast Mainline in spring next year and have a number of new initiatives ready to launch under the Virgin brand. The appointment of David Horne as Managing Director of InterCity East Coast will greatly help us accelerate these plans."
Speaking on his appointment, David Horne said: "I feel very privileged to be given the opportunity to lead this major new franchise. I've travelled on East Coast on many occasions over the years and have seen first-hand the level of pride the team have and the focus on delivering a great service for customers.
"Over 20 million journeys are made every year on this franchise which connects some of the UK's most important cities and it plays a key role in the local communities it serves. There are some really innovative plans for the future which will see investment in our people, in delivering more for our customers and will provide better support for our local communities.
"I'm really excited about the future for Virgin Trains East Coast and I'm looking forward to meeting the team and getting started on the next phase of the journey.”
The new Virgin Trains East Coast franchise will start in March 2015 and is planned to run until 31 March 2023, with the option for a one-year extension at the Department for Transport's discretion. Trains will operate under the ‘Virgin Trains East Coast' brand and the franchise will be managed by Inter City Railways, a venture between Stagecoach and Virgin. Plans are now well underway to ensure a smooth transition to the new franchise, and it has recently been confirmed that the Head Office will remain in York.
Over £140 million will be invested in the new franchise delivering major improvements for customers. Stagecoach and Virgin have exciting plans to transform the on-train experience and deliver a more personalised service, with at-seat food ordering from the buffet car and hot food available to passengers in standard class. A new Nectar loyalty scheme will be launched and it will be easier to buy tickets and make seat reservations. Passengers will also benefit from new trains, an improved timetable with faster journeys and better connections, more services to new destinations, better value fares, new technology and a range of station and accessibility enhancements.
Jake Kelly has been appointed Managing Director Designate of East Midlands Trains. He has previously worked as a director of the company and joins from the South West Trains-Network Rail Alliance where he has worked since 2010 in the roles of Commercial Director, Customer Service Director and more recently as Development Director.
Restoration of Coventry Daimler 366 continues
Ken Jones has provided is with some images of the restoration of Coventry Daimler 366.
The bus is owned by Coventry Transport Museum and is on a period of extended loan to Roger Burdett, who has a track record of high-quality vehicle restoration.
Ken advises that the upstairs is complete - apart from a couple of things like the mirror above the stairs and lighting has also been fitted. Seats are also finished. Downstairs the new window frames are in and lighting has been fitted with work continuing on the seats. The cab has been refurbished and awaiting the drivers seat to go back. The engine isfor repairs, including to a cracked block. Meanwhile the area around the engine area has been totally renovated, painted and rewired.
Delaine Buses Update
To co-incide with the publication of our latest Fleet Handbook, covering the Delaine Buses fleet, we are able to provide some latest news on the Lincolnshire-based operator.
At the start of December the DVLA put on sale select registration marks ahead of the change to '15' plate registrations in March 2015. Delaine has obtained AD15DBL which it will allocated to Volvo B9TL/Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini 2 No. 158. This bus is already built and will enter service in March 2015 when it will replace Volvo Olympian 127 which will then be sold to Sleafordian. Courtesy of Delaine Buses we have been able to include a photo of 158 on the cover of our latest book.
The company also has three other buses on order for delivery in 2015/16 and these will have the newer Gemini 3 bodywork.
Other news from Delaine is that it will be staging a 'heritage' Running Day on Sunday April 26th 2015 which will see both Leyland PDs in service along with Leyland Atlantean 72 and Volvo Olympian 116. Combined with the normal hourly Sunday service, which will be operated by Geminis, the 'heritage' vehicles will enable a 20-minute service to be operated.
Delaine will also be supporting the Peterborough Bus Rally on July 12th.
Direct Rail Services announces Open Day date for 2015
The DRS Annual Charity Open Day in 2015 will be held at Kingmoor Depot in Carlisle on Saturday 18th July 2015.
DRS is offering a family day out and the chance to have a look behind the scenes. A full range of locomotives from Class 20’s through to the brand new Class 68 will be on display. Staff will be on hand and happy to help with any technical assistance while the British Transport Police and Network Rail will be advising how to keep safe on the railway. A range of exhibitors will support the event selling Railway memorabilia galore! There really is something for everyone.
Next year will be an extra special as 2015 will mark the 20th Anniversary of DRS.
Tickets will be available via the Direct Rail Services webshop www.directrailservices.com in the New Year.
What's a kitchen sink doing on a train?
Getting coverage for transport arrangements at busy holiday times can be somewhat hit and miss. I have lost count of the number of Press Releases I sent out during my time in the railway industry that received little, or even worse, no coverage.
The key was to capture the imagination and as any PR and media professional will tell you, 'a picture paints a thousand words', so top marks to the PR team at East Coast. Whilst I would probably thought "just another travel announcement", the image which went with it made me look again and then read the release.
This really is a case of thinking outside the box and in my opinion works extremely well, so not only have I read the press release, it is reproduced below.
Taking the train this Christmas? Don’t bring the kitchen sink!
That’s the advice from East Coast, as preparations continue ahead of the traditionally busy festive travel period.
The train operator says that almost 72,000 people have already reserved seats to travel on its services between Monday 22 December and Christmas Eve – while on Saturday 27 December alone, almost 30,000 passengers are booked to travel with East Coast.
It’s now advising everyone to think about what they plan to bring with them, to ensure there is enough space not just for passengers but also for presents.
East Coast Commercial and Customer Service Director Peter Williams said: “Our trains are always busy before and after Christmas, as thousands choose the train as a more relaxed alternative to flying or driving to be with family and friends.
“In recent years we’ve seen a trend towards people bringing bigger suitcases and other bulky luggage onto our trains. While all our trains do have dedicated areas for luggage, there is always a limit to how much space we have, and it has to be shared by everyone on-board the train.
“Of course, we understand that it’s Christmas and our customers will want to bring presents with them as they travel – we’re just saying, don’t bring the kitchen sink!”
East Coast says passengers can bring up to three pieces of luggage with them on-board its trains. Of these, two can be larger items (no bigger than 90 cms x 70 cms x 30 cms) plus one piece of hand luggage: oversized luggage might be refused in passenger accommodation if it is likely to obstruct doorways, gangways or corridors.
For those making a journey from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley and vice versa, a free luggage check-in service will be operating for most daytime services from Friday 19 December to Sunday 4 January 2015 inclusive. Staff will be available on the platform to stow luggage safely and securely in the guard’s van, which can then be reclaimed at the end of the journey. The service will be available from 30 minutes before train departs, and will close 10 minutes before departure time: those wishing to take advantage of this service are advised to allow plenty of extra time to reach their departure point.
Services over Christmas and the New Year are normally busy, and customers are advised to book in advance to secure a seat, at www.eastcoast.co.uk, by calling 03457 225225 or at stations or rail travel agents.
Revised timetables will be in place on East Coast services from Tuesday 23 December 2014 to Friday 2 January 2015 inclusive. As in previous years, no East Coast services will operate on Christmas Day or Boxing Day (Thursday 25 and Friday 26 December 2014) and on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, services will finish earlier than a normal weekday.
Information on East Coast services over the festive season are available in a free booklet from East Coast served stations, on its website here: http://www.eastcoast.co.uk/travel-information/a-guide-to-christmas-and-new-year-travel/ and from National Rail Enquiries on 08457 48 49 50. Live information on the day of travel is also available on the East Coast website, or by following @eastcoastuk on Twitter.
A Virgin Christmas 2014-style
Yesterday we looked back to 2001 when Virgin Trains staged a Christmas event at Bombardier's Wakefiled factory. Today we fast forward 13 years and to what is a high-impact Christmas theme for 2014 - The Virgin Traindeer! The brandd Pendolino train is turning heads as it heads up and down the length of the West Coast Main Line and full marks to Virgin for entering the spirit of Christmas and also taking the bold move to brand the train.
Virgin explains the background.
Sisters, Ella and Ruby Prior from Congleton, Cheshire have had their artistic vision brought to life as Virgin Trains unveile a “Traindeer” on its network, the look of which was inspired by the design submitted by the girls for a Christmas card competition.
The Pendolino train was given the full festive treatment and was transformed into a reindeer (complete with a red nose!). The two girls saw their design on the Pendolino earlier this week at a surprise reveal at Manchester's Piccadilly station
Ella, aged 11 and Ruby, aged 9 were whisked off to the station by their parents without being told they had not only won the competition, but that the design had impressed judges so much, Virgin Trains had taken steps to actually create their vision for a real-life real Traindeer. They found out the good news when the decked out train pulled into the platform they were standing on, with Father Christmas himself stepping off to congratulate them.
A Virgin Christmas from the past
I am frequently asked what was my most memorable railway PR event and having covered them for over 20 years as a journalist, and managed them for some 12 years as a railway PR professional it is not easy to pick a winner. The events I attended were many and varied, but the resumption of loco-hauled trains to Pwhelli following the restoration of Barmouth Bridge in the mid-1980s has to be up there as one of the best remembered. InterCity's Special Train Unit Land Cruises were also really enjoyable and riding in the cab of a Class 91 during a 140mph run on the East Coast was something else. And then there was the coverage of train catering.... (well, I had to taste the product!)
Having joined Virgin Trains in 2000 there were numerous event around the introduction of the new trains and every possible opportunity to get media coverage was exploited. Positive coverage in the Trade Press help balance the negative views of the mainstream media and the early years were all about the new trains and the transformation of the business.
My former Editor at RAIL oft remarked that Virgin had staged more new train launches than it had new trains, but it was all about marking key milestones and engaging with local communities. This was not just on the West Coast as the CrossCountry franchise gave Virgin exposure on the East Coast north of Doncaster.
So December 16th 2001 was one of those milestones when the opportunity was taken, jointly with Bombardier, to profile the facilities available at the train builder Wakefield site and provide an update on the Voyager and Super Voyager trains. As it was December (the 16th actually) a Christmas theme took centre stage in one of the workshops at Bombardier Wakefield which saw a Class 220 named Yorkshire Voyager and a Class 221 named James Cook.
This was a typical railway PR event of the era with a real Virgin feel, which don't really feature in today's railway. These were expensive events to stage but raised the profile of the business and the railway in general but were also about establishing Virgin as part of the privatised railway. Now the focus of PR across the industry has changed and lower spend events can equally bring high levels of exposure, promotre the business and ideally increase revenues but there is nothing wrong in looking back at events of the not too distant past. We might do the same again in the future.
Images are Virgin Trains Press photographs which were issued after the event
Train catering under the microscope
It is rare that I get the opportunity to travel First Class these days on our railway system, but that opportunity existed earlier this week with journeys on both East Coast and West Coast.
As a former Peterborough-London commuter I was well aware of the limited First Class offer available from East Coast - the journey is under 70 minutes and so despite the three-figure cost of a return ticket the full catering service is not available. Besides tea/coffee and juice, or a pot of yoghurt als on offer was a pecan danish. Now this was a scaled down danish, two bites and it was gone, but what struck me was that there was no quality in the way it was served. It was put onto a plastic plate and alongside it I was handed a packet containing a serviette and a plastic knife and fork. Now this hardly speaks quality as would be expected for a First Class offer.
The return journey was the all day offer and I have to say the sandwiches, cake and fruit along with alcoholic drinks hits the mark.
But is the Government-run East Coast rail franchise, now in its dying months and due to be handed over to Stagecoach/Virgin in March next year looking at saving even more money on catering. From a comment in its latest pocket timetable it seems so. First Class customers making a four-hour plus journey from London to Edinburgh, or return, are requested to only partake of the main food offer once during the journey. They should not have a breakfast on leaving London and another food offering later in the journey other than snacks. This is a real contrast to Virgin's West Coast operation where passengers making a London-Glasgow journey are offered breakfast on leaving London and a further offering after Preston.
My second journey leg was from London Euston to Crewe and I was looking forward to a full cooked breakfast and Virgin didn't dissapoint. There is something about a cooked breakfast on a train journey that evokes memories of the golden age of travel and in my opinon Virgin maintains the tradition.
Yes, the food offering is muchg reduced from those golden days, but tastes and requirements have changed. Few commuters want a large breakfast offering and Virgin's slimmed down offering adequately foots the bill and was accompanied by toast and copious amounts of coffee.
The return journey from Crewe to London was not quite as slick and I would have preferred a hot drink on boarding, but had to wait for almost 45 minutes, It was served as the train headed through Nuneaton.
It will be interesting to see what changes Stagecoach/Virgin are planning for East Coast when it takes over operation of the King's Cross route in March next year.
Great Train Robbery driver and secondman honoured in event at Crewe Station on December 2nd 2014
Over the past 30 years I have attended literally hundreds of train namings as a journalist and have managed many more as a Press and Events Manager for Virgin Trains. However, the one held at Crewe today was of special significance and is a trbute to the partnership of Virgin Trains and freight operator DB Schenker.
In the early hours of August 8th 1963 two railway workers who were just doing their job found themselves in the middle what has become known as the Great Train Robbery. Driver Jack Mills and Secondman David Whitby were working the overnight mail train from Glasgow to London Euston, having taken over the train at Crewe. However, their train was ambushed at a location known as Bridego Bridge in Buckinghamshire. Driver Jack Mills was hit over the head in an attack which ended his railway career.
Jack Mills and David Whitby were honoured with the unveiling of a plaque at Virgin Trains' Crewe station, whilst DB Schenker named Class 90 90036 Driver Jack Mills. The name on the Class 90 was unveiled by local MP Edward Timpson, whilst the plaque was unveiled by well known rail enthusiast and pop impressario Pete Waterman. The event was attended by David Whitby's sister and Jack Mills' nephew.
Following the plaque unveiling it was blessed by Railway Chaplain Richard Cook.
It is a fitting tribute that Jack and David have at last been honoured for being caught up in the Great Train Robbery.
It was iunfortunate that an error has crept into the plaque, which gives the headcode of the ill-fate train as 1M55 when it was actually 1M44. The illustration of the Class 40 locomotive is also of the wrong variant of the class.
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.