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[18 JAN 99] WARWICKSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL PRESS RELEASE
27% Virgin Rails Fair Price Hike 'Totally Unacceptable'

In an open letter, written on behalf of Warwickshire consumers and businesses, Warwickshire Trading Standards have asked Virgin boss Richard Branson to justify price increases on rail fares between the county and London which have ranged from over 16% to almost 27%.

Cllr Ian Bottrill, Leader Of Warwickshire County Council has written to ask John Prescott MP, Secretary Of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions to intervene in this matter.

The cost of a Virgin first class open return ticket to London, travelling from Coventry or Nuneaton has risen by 17 from 78 to 95, an increase of 21.79%, whilst standard open returns have also risen from 51 to 59.50, a 16.66% increase.

The cost of travelling from Rugby to London (first class open return) has increased from 64 to 81, an incredible 26.56% rise, whilst the cost of a standard open return has increased by almost 19% from 45.50 to 54.00.

Warwickshire consumers travelling to London from these three principal mainline stations servicing the county now face the prospect of paying rail fares which have increased by more than 10 times the underlying rate of inflation (currently 2.5%)

Noel Hunter, Warwickshire County Trading Standards Officer said:

"Virgin Trains service problems are already well documented, but this huge price hike will come as an additional shock to many rail passengers, especially given that to the year ending June 1998 Virgin rail fares only increased by an average of around 4%."

Rail regulatory bodies do exist to protect consumers, but warn Trading Standards Officers, these bodies have limited powers. The proposed Strategic Rail Authority which will take over responsibility for consumer protection from the Rail Regulator, will, it is envisaged, have stronger powers to aid consumers. However, it is unlikely that this new authority will come in to being before the middle of next year, leaving consumers with up to 18 months to wait, for the promise of adequate protection.

In comparison, rail fares from Warwick to London on Chiltern Railways, 54 for an open first class return ticket, and 35 for an open standard return, have not changed from their pre January 1st 1999 prices when Chiltern introduced their price changes.

NOTES

1) In 'An analysis of Fare Rises On Britain's Railways - Year Ending June 1998' published by the Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee in October 1998, Virgin West Coast's ticket prices had risen by an average of 4.0%, whilst Virgin Cross Country's ticket prices had risen by an average of 4.1% (year ending June 1998).

2) Rail fare prices were provided by the National Rail Enquiry Service.

Virgin Trains Open Returns (pay on the day)

  Before
1st Class
After
1st Class
increase and % Before Standard After Standard increase and %
Rugby to London 64 81 17 or 26.56% 45.50 54.00 8.50 or 18.68%
Coventry to London 78 95 17 or 21.79% 51 59.50 8.50 or 18.68%
Nuneaton to London 78 95 17 or 21.79% 51 59.59 8.50 or 16.66%

3) A copy of the letter to Richard Branson is attached below:

Dear Mr Branson

I am writing to you on behalf of Warwickshire County Council to bring to your notice concerns we wish to raise on behalf of local businesses and consumers following your recent increase of rail fares in this region.

The principal mainline railway stations servicing Warwickshire consumers are Rugby, Coventry and Nuneaton. At each station, open return tickets have increased from 1 January 1999 by between 17% and 27%. This extraordinary increase in prices set against an underlying rate of inflation of 2.5% and service problems which are well documented, leads us to challenge the pricing policy of your company.

We are writing this as an open letter to you in the public interest and will be grateful for an early reply to explain the justification for these increases in the light of the present standard of service and the current rate of inflation.

Yours sincerely

Noel Hunter

County Trading Standards Officer
         

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CWN / Politics / Warwickshire County Council / Press Releases / 18 Jan 99

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