Virgin Trains 2020 Vision



Sir Richard Branson sets out his vision. Photo Virgin trains.

It has become fashionable in certain circles to knock Richard Branson. He is now such an icon of British entrepreneurial success that its easy to forget his early David-and-Goliath battles with British Airways, which he won; and his later skirmish with the British Government over the National Lottery, which he lost. His campaigns gained him public admiration and quite a few influential enemies.

More recently his foresight in copper-plating Virgin Trains’ West Coast mainline contract in case the West Coast main line upgrade didn’t go to plan – which it did not – may have upset a few mandarins at the Department for Transport. But what has really driven his opponents to fury are his view that working for one of the companies in the Virgin Group should actually be fun. To a generation of Harvard or Henley trained MBA graduates Branson’s management philosophy does not make any sense at all.

Yet Britain has had its share of iconoclastic managers that were brilliant at motivating the people who worked for them. Branson is the latest of a great tradition that starts with Admiral Nelson and continues on with Sir John Harvey Jones. Great leaders who took for granted that if – you told the people who worked for you the truth, treated them as intelligent human beings and kept them informed – you end up with motivated employees who – when the going gets tough – will continue to do their job.

The corporate culture within Branson’s companies, coupled with the decentralised management structure of the Virgin Group and the strength of the Virgin brand, is a recipe for commercial success that few competitors have been able to follow. So by way of contrast with what you may read elsewhere, I would like to applaud two recent initiatives by Sir Richard. The first his ‘2020 Vision’ set out at yesterday’s press conference where he shared some of his out-of-box thinking.

With a £1bn investment we could, within 3 to 5 years, see our trains running at 140mph with reductions in journey times between London and all West Coast destinations. What we are asking is that the Government re-thinks the franchise situation to give train operators the opportunity to invest, grow the rail business and lessen the burden on taxpayers.

Rail pundits obsessed with the Department of Transport invented crap of ‘High Level Output Statements’, Control Periods, short-term franchises and the fragmented railway just don’t get it. Branson wants a new partnership with Government that gives a greater role to train operating companies to control:

  • Timetable developments
  • Rolling stock specification and procurement
  • Station developments
  • New route development
  • Secure innovative sources of funding

Give the railway companies some of the freedom that the ‘Big Four’ pre-nationalisation railway companies took for granted and you could have:

  • Journey times of under 60 minutes between London and Birmingham
  • Construction of an underground extension to Birmingham International station with a direct link from there to the West Coast Main Line at Lichfield using the existing M6 corridor
  • Journey times of under 4 hours between London and Glasgow
  • Links from the West Coast Main Line at its southern end with both Heathrow and HS1 to Europe

Branson’s 2020 vision could lead to a railway revival within our lifetimes and improve the public standing of Britain’s railways to the point where there would be a popular consensus behind the plans to construct a new high speed network.

Perhaps if Sir Richard’s vision for a new future for Britain’s railways falls on stony ground in the UK, he might consider hopping on a Eurostar and helping us restructure and modernise Poland’s crumbling railway system instead?

Oh and I nearly forgot – Sir Richard’s other recent praiseworthy achievement – cancelling plans for new services between North Wales and London that would have crushed fledgling operator Wrexham & Shropshire. Maybe the bad press that the plans received reminded him of those battles he fought in the early days of his airline company, Virgin Atlantic, so many years ago.

My thanks to the Fact Compiler for alerting me to both stories,



Tags: ,

3 Responses to “Virgin Trains 2020 Vision”

  1. Phil Says:

    What Branson is trying to do is get the Government to set the franchises up in a sensible way. The original version doesn’t give anyone sufficient time to allow them to develop and invest in a service – that was of course the plan written by a Govt/City that doesn’t do longer term planning than a fortnight.

    He’s now the only one either, Chiltern Trains and others have also agitated for this. What the UK rail scene needs is a serious simplification of the system to allow them to run the business properly and reduce the need to legal negotiations at every step.

  2. Mark Judd Says:

    Confused…..the M6 corridor doesn’t go anywhere near Lichfield, do you mean the M6 Toll?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s