“Please help me persuade Virgin Trains to improve its service to Cyclists.” – Steve Bramwell

Description

Steve Bramwell

My son was due to travel on the 17:15 train from Manchester, Piccadilly to Euston on Sunday the 18th of March. He decided he would take his push bike to London on this train. He looked up the correct number for this service and on a premium fee for the call, was then told that he could not book the bicycle on this service with them because he had not bought his ticket online.

It was explained to him by the operative that he would need to contact the rail station from which he wanted to depart in order to book the bicycle on the train. He asked for a number to speak to the Virgin operative at Piccadilly but was told these were all ex directory.

Next the call centre operative explained that the only way to book a bicycle on a train, if you have bought your ticket offline, is to go personally to the departure station, which in this case was a 22 mile round trip. This was done and the ticket secured.

To add insult to injury although admittedly on the last minute we arrived on the platform 5 at 17:13 and approached the Guard ‘James’ who was stood chatting to a passenger about mid way down the train he looked at my son and I and said “You cant put a bike on this train” I asked why and he replied you need a ticket to book it on. I assured him we had a ticket and explained the trouble we had been through to get it. He replied with a smirk “Well it’s closed now as the train is leaving”. I asked when the doors close and he replied that they close automatically 40 seconds before the train leaves. Naturally the train was still stood in the station, he blew his whistle and the train left leaving my son his bike and I on the station aghast at the lack of help and courtesy.
I would like to see Virgin supplying contact numbers 24/7 for this service not at a premium rate so that the obvious gap in joined up on line offline services was addressed. As for the Guard at Piccadilly I think that is a matter for Virgin managers.

Problem History

  • 1 Steve Bramwell reported the issue on FixMyTransport. close 09:52 19 Mar 2012
  • 2 Steve Bramwell wrote to Virgin Trains close 09:52 19 Mar 2012

    Here is the letter that Steve Bramwell wrote.

    Bicycle transport and customer care

    My son was due to travel on the 17:15 train from Manchester, Piccadilly to Euston on Sunday the 18th of March. He decided he would take his push bike to London on this train. He looked up the correct number for this service and on a premium fee for the call, was then told that he could not book the bicycle on this service with them because he had not bought his ticket online.

    It was explained to him by the operative that he would need to contact the rail station from which he wanted to depart in order to book the bicycle on the train. He asked for a number to speak to the Virgin operative at Piccadilly but was told these were all ex directory.

    Next the call centre operative explained that the only way to book a bicycle on a train, if you have bought your ticket offline, is to go personally to the departure station, which in this case was a 22 mile round trip. This was done and the ticket secured.

    To add insult to injury although admittedly on the last minute we arrived on the platform 5 at 17:13 and approached the Guard ‘James’ who was stood chatting to a passenger about mid way down the train he looked at my son and I and said “You cant put a bike on this train” I asked why and he replied you need a ticket to book it on. I assured him we had a ticket and explained the trouble we had been through to get it. He replied with a smirk “Well it’s closed now as the train is leaving”. I asked when the doors close and he replied that they close automatically 40 seconds before the train leaves. Naturally the train was still stood in the station, he blew his whistle and the train left leaving my son his bike and I on the station aghast at the lack of help and courtesy.
    I would like to see Virgin supplying contact numbers 24/7 for this service not at a premium rate so that the obvious gap in joined up on line offline services was addressed. As for the Guard at Piccadilly I think that is a matter for Virgin managers.

  • 3 Relations, Customer responded to Steve Bramwell close 09:55 19 Mar 2012
    Thank you for contacting us.

    This is an automated email acknowledgement confirming receipt of
    your email.

    We will respond again as soon as possible. However we are
    dealing with a high level of correspondence at the moment so
    this may take longer than usual.

    If your enquiry is urgent or you are due to travel in the next
    few days, please contact us on 0845 000 8000 (08:30-18:15
    Mon-Fri, 09:00-16:00 Sat, closed Sundays).

    Regards,

    Customer Relations
    Virgin Trains.

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  • 4 Shaun McDonald commented close 18:51 19 Mar 2012

    In all the times that I've taken my bicycle on a train, Virgin Trains is the worst when it comes to space and customer service. It's not the first time I've arrived in London Euston and had to take my bike the whole way through carriage A to get off the train as I had been left abandoned in the carriage furthest from the platform exit. I'd be really worried if I was travelling southbound and not getting off at a terminus with my bike.

    There was once when I was totally amazed when the train manager sat in the empty cab for the last bit of the journey specifically so that he wouldn't forget to open the door. He couldn't understand my amazement and happiness that I wasn't left to try and get my bike through carriage A, as he thought that it should happen all the time.

    Heading northbound is slightly better as the driver is in that cab, however it depends on the driver you get as some drivers are happy to open the door, whilst others aren't. I've had the train manager tell me to just knock on the driver's cab door to ask him to open the door, even so it is meant to be the train manager's responsibility, to find the train driver complain that the train manager should be opening the door.

    On booking train tickets when taking a bike on the train, the UK train booking system isn't so great. I've found it best to book with the bike on the train online through the East Coast or Southern Rail websites (others that use the same system can work too), or in the case of the Caledonian Sleeper phoning Scotrail. You may find that phoning another train company would allow you to book the bikes on Virgin Trains with less fuss. (A common misconception is that you must book/buy train tickets from the train company you are travelling with, this only applies in a few special cases like the sleeper trains). When I've tried to book the bike on afterwards, there is no way at the moment to make a seat of bike reservation that I'm aware of without going to the station. It should just be a staffed station, rather than specifically the one that you are departing from, though not all support reservations.

    I've never used it, but I have noticed that the bahn.de site does have the ability to just book a seat reservation based on you having a ticket (though does charge), so why not here in the UK?

    anorak
  • 5 Virgin Trains Customer Relations responded to Steve Bramwell close 16:21 22 Mar 2012
    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Thank you for your email which we received on 19/03/2012 09:55.
    Your comments have been entered into our case management system
    under reference VT-0120319-1L3 and we will respond to you as
    soon as possible.

    If you are making a claim for compensation or refund in line
    with our Passengers Charter, please reply to this email with the
    information listed below. This will help us to process your
    claim more quickly.

    There is no need to reply if you included this information in
    your original email.

    ·         Your full postal address;

    ·         A scan or photo of your tickets, or:

    ·         If your tickets were not purchased through Virgin
    Trains website or telesales office, some other proof of purchase
    (e.g. a copy of the email confirmation for your booking).

    If it is an urgent matter, however, you may wish to give us a
    call on 0845 000 8000 (Mon-Fri 08:30-18:15, Sat 09:00-16:00,
    closed Sundays, Christmas Day and Boxing Day) quoting the above
    reference. In the meantime, we will do our utmost to reply as
    soon as we can.

    Regards

    Virgin Trains Customer Relations Team

    show quoted sections
  • 6 Virgin Trains Customer Relations responded to Steve Bramwell close 08:52 23 Mar 2012
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    Virgin Trains

    Customer Relations

    PO Box 713

    Birmingham

    B5 4HH

    Tel: 0845 000 8000

    Fax: 0121 654 7500

    Email: [Virgin Trains problem reporting email]

    Ref: VT-0120319-1L3

    Dear Mr Bramwell,

    Thank you for your e-mail about your sonÂ’s recent journey with
    us between Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston on 18^th
    March 2012.

    I am very sorry to learn of the disappointing experience your
    son had when travelling with his bicycle; I can fully appreciate
    your joint frustration at this, and am also concerned to hear
    about the response of the Train Manager.

    We are aware that many of our customers combine rail travel with
    cycling for business or leisure, so we aim to make this as
    simple and straightforward as possible; it is therefore deeply
    regrettable that it was not the case here, and I do hope you
    will accept my sincere apologies.

    Rest assured, we take reports such as yours very seriously, so I
    have passed on a copy of your remarks to the relevant managers,
    in order to follow up appropriately.  In the meantime, I would
    be most grateful if you would be able to confirm the overall
    length of delay caused to your sonÂ’s journey, and also provide
    a copy of your sonÂ’s tickets (either as an e-mail attachment,
    or by post to the above address), quoting your case reference
    number, and full postal address details.

    Thank you for your time; we look forward to hearing from you
    again shortly.

    Yours sincerely

    Lee Thacker

    Customer Relations

    show quoted sections
  • 7 Dave H commented close 20:58 23 Mar 2012

    Much of the time the bike spaces are available and travel empty because of the mess that the system is in. I would praise the policy that Cross Country actually put up on posters at most of the stations they serve. In effect they state that a reservation will secure you a bike space BUT if you have no reservation and the space is available (or they can fit you in anyway) then you get on the train. Please lobby at every opportunity for East Coast and Virgin to adopt the same policy and Great Western to formally confirm that that do the same as Cross Country.

    The problem stems from the fudged way that bike 'reservations' are delivered. Your bike reservation is actually a seat reservation in disguise for a non-existent virtual coach with bike spaces in place of seats. The ticketing system, which until very recently was not compatible with the weekly timetable updates (this data had to be manually transferred) is set up to allow ONE seat reservation per ticket on each part of the trip, but for a trip with a bike you require TWO seat reservations, and if you travel with a bike on the seated train from Euston to Fort William the system needs to be forced to issue you with FOUR seat reservations on the same train (which is why only Scotrail have staff trained to issue these tickets). There is no fee charged and thus no revenue to a call centre for the transaction, and to force the system into breaking its own rules uyou do need to know what you are doing. Thus many call centres say it is not possible to book a bike space but others have no problem.

    In this respect Virgin has been the nadir, but the practised hands at First's contractors in Plymouth and Fort William generally sort things out. Virgin also suggest that you use the travel centre counters at their stations to book your bike - but seem to forget that some of their trains leave before and after the travel centre counters are closed.

    Worth also remembering that over half the train operators in the UK do not pay for the added feature of seat reservations on their trains, and thus do not offer cycle reservations. If your journey includes a stage on an unreserveable train than it may show to a clerk as no spaces available on every stage of the journey, and so they say no spaces, turning that around and testing each train for space often reveals that spaces are available on all reserveable trains

    We've had this mess for years with a spectacular clusterF in 2006(?) when the ticketing software upgrade went spectacularly wrong (in December) and people could still not get seat or bike reservations as little as 1 day in advance by the Mayday holiday and sleeper reservations had to be manually allocated through to September. I can't help thinking that if the Developer brainpower of some MySociety backroom guys got to work on the problem....

    The design of the Pendolino has opted to make the door to the bike storage space 'crew only' and the IC225 and IC125 trains on East Coast have the bike spaces lockable and controlled by staff on the train or on the platform. Some of the locks are very basic and a few old hands seem to have no problems in 'finding' someone to unlock these doors, (11th commandment applies).

    One saving condition for Virgin is that they try to have all the trains the same way round, with the bike spaces at the North end, and there is normally a driver change-over at Preston, helpful if you are heading North. East Coast has the spaces at opposite ends of the 2 types of train - 10 coaches (230 metres) apart.

    In a survey from 2002 3% of Virgin passengers travelling through Birmingham on Cross-Country routes said that they wanted to take bikes with them on the trains, and world-wide a general figure of between 3 and 5% of overall passenger counts seems to be the typical demand - with localised demand well in excess of this on very specific routes. With the low levels of passnger loading outside the peak hours this seems to regularly give me a '10% of passengers' figure, when I count bikes and passengers on the train. Exceptionally it can hit 70-100% when a party of cyclists heads out from town on a morning train . Please do counts and report them back to me via FixMyTransport, the train operators are not doing this so let's do our own research.

    Cross Country's policy shows the demand is there with some of their trains used by commuters between Bristol & Cheltenham, Sheffield and Leeds, Newcastle and Durham etc. Often, with luggage comparatively rare on these trains, I've counted 7 or more bikes and up to that magic 10 % of the passengers for a couple of stops.

    Finally would you pay for a bike ticket on a busy train rather than have a bike ban, or have a free bike ticket if this unlocked the reservations issue? I'm watching and contributing to a long running debate between ATOC and the CTC representing the UK's cyclists since 1878 (and getting its first bikes on trains concessions in 1882)

  • 8 Peter Dixon commented close 16:35 25 Mar 2012

    Hi Steve, to send the details of the tickets to Virgin Trains you will need to quote Ref: VT-0120319-1L3 and send an email with tickets scanned as attachments to

    customer.relations@virgintrains.co.uk

    or send them to the address that Lee provided.

    I hope this helps. Any issues, please come back to this page

    Kind regards

    anorak
    admin
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Train route between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly operated by Virgin Trains
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