Virgin's bid derailed

Sir Richard Branson's eyes may be firmly fixed on his imminent sale of Virgin Media, but he would still have winced at the news that his train business has just lost its lucrative Cross Country rail network, from Penzance to Aberdeen. Virgin has operated the route, the UK's longest, since 1997, but has been shunted into the sidings by Arriva, the Sunderland firm that already operates a Welsh rail route and several bus services across the country.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

While it's bad news for Branson, it's hardly likely to be greeted with a cheer by the nation's rail passengers either. It's a familiar story: Arriva has promised to up capacity on rush hour trains by 35%, but it's predicted it will raise ticket prices by 3.5% above inflation in order to do so. Prices may rise by as much as 60% over the life of the franchise, set to expire in 2016. Many commuters will already know that the company has previously upped prices on its Welsh routes by as much as a third, with the withdrawal of its SuperSaver ticket, the cheapest ‘walk up' fares.

All of which would be fair enough if it guaranteed a decent service. But all too often a simple train trip nowadays can mean going hundreds of miles without hot water or functioning toilets, and eating only peanuts. The revamped post-Hatfield Network Rail isn't working too well  either - journeys often involve piling onto a bus for large chunks, while its people patch up the creaking tracks.

Governments and green campaigners like to insist that people start doing something about their carbon footprint, and joining a train full of happy travellers should be one of the most pleasant and eco-friendly ways of moving about. But when you can fly to Glasgow for £20, how appealing is a stratospheric ticket to railway hell?

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