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“Please help me persuade Virgin Trains to put less 1st class carriages and more 2nd class” – Joan Gibbons

Description

Joan Gibbons

On Friday 7th October, I travelled with 3 adults with learning disabilities as part of my work. I was with 1 other support worker. We boarded a train (the seats were not reserved because we had purchased them 4 months earlier as part of a theatre, hoted, train package). We got on the train towards the end of the first class carriages of which, there were no less 6!!!!!!!! Each first class carriage had many empty tables on them and there were little more than 3-4 people in each carriage.

We were advised by the waiter in the carriage that we could not stand in the corridor of the first class seats unless we wanted to upgrade at £200 each person! £1000 for a two hour journey is rather excessive in my view, so we declined but, explained that we had disabled people and lots of bags. We were told we still could not stand there and must move down to 2nd class. We did this with a great deal of hard work only to find 2nd class (of which there were 5 carriages all full). We were offered no help or assistance whatsoever whilst we struggled with bags (and nowhere to put them), one man with a plastic knee and learning disabilities, a lady with no sense of space and a learning disability and another lady who struggles with balance and a learning disability. We did eventually manage to get seats in a carriage albeit spread out through it. All of this whilst many tables stood empty.

Can you explain why the need for so many first class carriages whilst the 2nd class are packed in like sardines? I already know if I had reserved my seats I would have been guaranteed a seat, but that does not explain why so many seats are devoted to so few? People can only pay what they can afford, so hoping for upgrades to be paid because people are being treated so badly is a disgrace in the 21st century. The return journed was equally as traumatic with the carriages being split 50/50 into 1st and 2nd class and the 1st class standing mostly empty. AGAIN!!!!!!!

Be ashamed, be very ashamed. I know I will avoid trains and in particular VIRGIN trains at all costs in the future as will everyone I know with a disability because, rest assured I will spread the word. Absolutely disgusted.

Yours sincerely
Joan Gibbons

Problem History

  • 1 Joan Gibbons reported the issue on FixMyTransport. close 01:47 15 Oct 2011
  • 2 Joan Gibbons wrote to Virgin Trains close 01:47 15 Oct 2011

    Here is the letter that Joan Gibbons wrote.

    Very poor service

    On Friday 7th October, I travelled with 3 adults with learning disabilities as part of my work. I was with 1 other support worker. We boarded a train (the seats were not reserved because we had purchased them 4 months earlier as part of a theatre, hoted, train package). We got on the train towards the end of the first class carriages of which, there were no less 6!!!!!!!! Each first class carriage had many empty tables on them and there were little more than 3-4 people in each carriage.

    We were advised by the waiter in the carriage that we could not stand in the corridor of the first class seats unless we wanted to upgrade at £200 each person! £1000 for a two hour journey is rather excessive in my view, so we declined but, explained that we had disabled people and lots of bags. We were told we still could not stand there and must move down to 2nd class. We did this with a great deal of hard work only to find 2nd class (of which there were 5 carriages all full). We were offered no help or assistance whatsoever whilst we struggled with bags (and nowhere to put them), one man with a plastic knee and learning disabilities, a lady with no sense of space and a learning disability and another lady who struggles with balance and a learning disability. We did eventually manage to get seats in a carriage albeit spread out through it. All of this whilst many tables stood empty.

    Can you explain why the need for so many first class carriages whilst the 2nd class are packed in like sardines? I already know if I had reserved my seats I would have been guaranteed a seat, but that does not explain why so many seats are devoted to so few? People can only pay what they can afford, so hoping for upgrades to be paid because people are being treated so badly is a disgrace in the 21st century. The return journed was equally as traumatic with the carriages being split 50/50 into 1st and 2nd class and the 1st class standing mostly empty. AGAIN!!!!!!!

    Be ashamed, be very ashamed. I know I will avoid trains and in particular VIRGIN trains at all costs in the future as will everyone I know with a disability because, rest assured I will spread the word. Absolutely disgusted.

    Yours sincerely
    Joan Gibbons

  • 3 Relations, Customer responded to Joan Gibbons close 01:50 15 Oct 2011
    Thank you for contacting us.

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

    We will respond again shortly.

    Regards,

    Customer Relations
    Virgin Trains.

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  • 4 Virgin Trains responded to Joan Gibbons close 11:23 17 Oct 2011
     

    Dear Ms J Gibbons,

    Thank you for your email which we received on 15 October 2011.
    Your comments have been entered into our case management system
    under reference 4-2071166 and we will respond to you as soon as
    possible,

    If it is an urgent matter, however, you may wish to give us a
    call on 0845 000 8000 quoting the above reference. In the
    meantime, we will do our utmost to arrange a swift response.

    Regards

    Virgin Trains Customer Relations Team

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  • 5 Myf Nixon commented close 15:33 17 Oct 2011

    That does sound like a remarkable ratio of first to second class carriages, Joan. Good luck in getting a decent response.

    anorak
    admin
  • 6 Paul Hollinghurst commented close 17:07 17 Oct 2011

    The ratio is actually 4 first class to 5 standard class; still very excessive but not as bad as implied.

    The West Coast franchise is coming up for renewal and earlier this year there was a consultation about what this should cover and this includes a specific comment about the 1st/standard ratio:
    http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/open/2011-01/consultationdocument.pdf
    Page 56 says "Bidders will be expected to consider the appropriate allocation of first and standard class seating as part of their proposals".
    Some of the trains are also being lengthened which will increase the number of standard carriages to 7 over the next couple of years.

    Of course this doesn’t explain why Virgin Trains have allowed the current ratio to persist for almost 10 years and quite rightly receive the kind of criticism mentioned here.

    Regarding Preston station, they do mark the platform with zones to show where the first class and standard class seating is located.
    National Rail Enquiries provide station plans showing access and facilities which should be helpful for anyone travelling with people with more limited mobility:
    http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations/sjp/PRE/plan.html?rtnloc=PRE
    There are details of the facilities on the main London bound platform here including a mention of the zones:
    http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations/sjp/PRE/objectvalues/2782-0000028.html

    Anyway, I am sure Virgin Trains will provide more information about the assistance both they and Preston station can provide; I am just speaking as a regular traveller on the route.

    anorak
    admin
  • 7 Dave H commented close 22:01 17 Oct 2011

    A problem with DfT and TOC's opting for fixed formation trains some trains have all First Class seats filled (0656 PRE-EUS is one) and all standard class seats filled at full fare (no saver fares on this train). The convertible coach - as found on the Voyager may be a good compromise - designed to be operated as a First Class coach where needed but easily declassified (and usually so most of the time)

    The European concept of a rake of coaches and a loco/driving trailer makes a lot of sense, as trains can be set up for the varied purposes rather than one train one format.

    That said there are many economic arguments to favour a fixed formation unit.

  • 8 Slip Digby commented close 14:06 18 Oct 2011

    Joan,

    Did you bring the issue up with the Train Manager at any point? Most TM's (Virgin especially) are very receptive to situations such as the one you describe and will go to some lengths to make sure that those who are less mobile or require assistance are accommodated on services.

    Secondly, can you provide details of the theatre/hotel/travel package? Most bundled deals such as these insist on travel upon specific trains rather than operating as "open" tickets for travel on any date, so I'm somewhat surprised at their existence.

    Many thanks!

  • 9 Joan Gibbons commented close 01:04 19 Oct 2011

    Slip Digby

    No I did not bring up the incident with the train manager because, as you can imagine with 3 adults with problems and baggage for each of them plus my own (the other support worker is 70 years old) and all of the 3 adults are over 50 (as am I) it was hard work just trying to sort everyone out.

    The theatre package I booked in Leyland. I got 3 tickets to Mama Mia (the other 2 went to see Phantom of the Opera). We stayed at the Days Hotel in Waterloo (which was excellent) and the train tickets were open for all day (after 9.00 a.m) Friday 7th October and return on 10th after 9.00 a.m. I hope this helps.

    As for the person that commented 4 first class carriages to 5 second class, sorry but unless I have lost my counting skills there were more 1st class carriages than 4 on each journey.

    Thanks to everyone for the comments.

    Joan

  • 10 Paul Hollinghurst commented close 11:38 19 Oct 2011

    Just for the record, here is a seating plan showing the layout of the 4 first class carriages and the 5 standard class ones:
    http://www.virgintrains.co.uk/assets/pdf/global/seating-plan.pdf
    I do appreaciate that counting carriages would have been difficult in the circumstances.
    The ratio is certainly wrong for many services. I have always felt they should be more proactive by declassifying one of the first class carriages on trains known to be particularly busy in standard class but not in first class.
    Interestingly 30 of the trains are being extended by 2 standard class carriages in the next couple of years so these will have a much healthier ratio of 7 standard carriages to 4 first class.

    anorak
    admin
  • 11 Paul Hollinghurst commented close 11:53 19 Oct 2011

    I appreciate the journey went badly, but just in case there is anyone else thinking of making the journey with disabled people, Virgin do have a helpline:
    http://www.virgintrains.co.uk/contact/
    "Need special assistance when you travel? Then please call the Virgin Trains JourneyCare reservation line, our service for those with a mobility impairment or other disability, at least 24 hours in advance on 08457 443 366 or 08457 443 367 if you're a text phone user."
    Also Preston is fully staffed and the platform staff will know exactly where it is best to board a train and should be able to give help and advice.
    However I know from first hand experience that the trains can be busy and occasionally standard and first class can be completely full, so the only real solution is to reserve a seat as you say in you original message.
    I am speaking as a regular rail traveller on the route, and not on behalf of Virgin Trains.

    anorak
    admin
  • 12 Myf Nixon commented close 15:23 19 Oct 2011

    Paul, this is really helpful; thanks so much.

    anorak
    admin
  • 13 Virgin Trains responded to Joan Gibbons close 13:54 01 Nov 2011
     

    Dear Ms Gibbons,

    Thank you very much for your correspondence concerning your
    recent journeys with us.

    I can understand your comments regarding your experience with us
    and the volume of passengers in both First Class and Standard.

    Firstly, we do a lot of work to help spread passenger loadings
    between First and Standard Class facilities. That is why there
    are, for example, some real bargains to be had for First Class
    travel outside of peak times. We will also use the discounted
    Advance tickets to encourage Standard Class travellers to use
    the quieter trains. We are having quite a lot of success in
    doing this, but as your journeys demonstrate there are still
    challenges for us.

    Nevertheless, I will make sure the team responsible for the
    allocation of the cheaper tickets is aware of what you went
    through to see what we are able to do.

    We do urge customers to arrange a seat reservation for their
    journey, which subject to availability can be requested free of
    charge up to 2 hours before travel by calling 0844 556 5650, to
    avoid the sort of situation you describe.

    However, I can confirm that there is unreservable seating
    available on all our train services. These seats are located
    throughout the train on our SuperVoyager services. On the
    Pendolinos, 25% of Standard Class capacity is unreservable. This
    includes all of the seats in coach E, and further seating
    throughout the train.

    It was very disappointing to read that our staff were not
    available to assist you and hope you can accept my sincerest
    apologies.

    As part of our Disabled Peoples Protection Policy all Virgin on
    board staff are briefed to look out for customers with specific
    needs and to offer appropriate assistance when necessary. They
    are also encouraged to provide the highest levels of customer
    service and are empowered to resolve appropriate issues on the
    spot. This sounds like one of those occasions when doing just
    that little bit more would have made all the difference.  I do
    hope that you will accept my apologies for any inconvenience or
    distressed caused on this occasion.

    I do thank you for taking the time to write to us. We value your
    comments, and we welcome the opportunity this gives us to
    understand what our customers require from our service.

    Yours sincerely

    Ben Evers

    Customer Relations

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  • started 15 October 2011
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Train route between London Euston and Preston operated by Virgin Trains, ScotRail
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