Posts Tagged ‘Virgin Trains’

Virgin Trains 2020 Vision

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


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,


Virgin Trains advertises

Thursday, 7 May 2009


Frame from Virgin Trains: Success Express TV ad by Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy

Virgin Trains are advertising their trains on TV! The ads by Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy are good, very good. These days, I never travel by car to get to an important meeting if I can at all avoid it and I have lost count of how many of my presentations, like Ed’s, have received a final polish on the train. We are living in the Age of Stress. Do you remember the days when business travel was enjoyable?

In Britain, travelling by rail is more of a challenge, because so many connecting lines have been axed and – unless you are prepared to spend a whole day on the Internet planning your journey two weeks in advance – train travel is astronomically expensive. In Poland, if you take care, you can still get to most larger towns by rail, although another 7,000 km of railway imminently faces the axe.

A week ago, I had a choice of two ways of travelling from Poznan to Lodz by train: Poznan – Kutno by EuroCity, 20 minute wait at Kutno, Kutno – Lodz by Pospieszny (semi fast), total journey time 3 1/2 hour, cost 125 zloty (£25); or, Poznan – Lodz direct by osobowy (stopping train), total journey time 4 1/2 hours, cost 25 zloty (£5). I took a good book and took the second option. The fastest journey time is not necessarily the best choice!


PS. Thanks to The Fact Compiler and The Railway Eye blog for alerting me to Virgin Trains’ new TV ads.


Virgin Trains Where do you want to be? campaign by MCBD:

(The links should work for the next 5 days.)

Our 100th post

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Cumulative daily visits each month in April and May

Today’s article is our 100th post. We have now been publishing Behind The Water Tower for three months in its present form as a campaigning blog. (An earlier test version was started a month earlier on another site.) In May we had 3,183 hits which averages out at 100 visits daily.

Rather than bask in out own glory we would like to dedicate today’s post to all the professional men and women who work on our railways and to all the volunteers who work to rescue closed railways and then keep them going. People like Moira Cross.

Moira Cross at Swanage Station (c) Andrew Wright

Moira took part in the original campaign, launched in 1968, to stop the Swanage Railway closing and helped petition the authorities. From 1972, she provided secretarial assistance to the Swanage Railway Society – the pioneers of the project to reopen the Swanage Railway. She was a committee member of the Swanage and Wareham Railway Group – the local resident’s campaigning group – without whose efforts the Society’s efforts would have come to nothing.

When the trains started to run she helped run the railway shop and helped set up the team that ran the refreshment stall. For over 30 years, Moira has been helping the Swanage Railway as an unpaid volunteer. On 6 September, 2002 Moira’s dedication was recognised by the Swanage Railway and Virgin Trains when she was asked to name a Virgin Voyager trainset – the first mainline train to travel down the Swanage line for over thirty years. To Moira, and the hundreds of thousands of men and women, who work our railways, whether as transport links, heritage lines, or both, our grateful thanks.