Virgin? I don't think so, you saucy little wench... oh, that's the spot I like, right there.
November 1, 2007 9:33 PM   Subscribe

Virgin Trains embarks on a new campaign. Richard Branson takes a new direction in getting people to think about global warming and using British rail. More here.
posted by parmanparman (40 comments total)
God bless the English.
posted by brain cloud at 9:46 PM on November 1, 2007

brain cloud: "God bless the English."

Why, did they sneeze?
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:06 PM on November 1, 2007

Only tangentially related, but why is train travel in the US so fucking expensive? I wanted to take a train on a recent trip, but the tickets cost more than plane tickets. Can they possibly be running full trains at those prices?
posted by empath at 10:08 PM on November 1, 2007

empath: food for thought.

(caveat: the article quotes people from the Heritage Foundation, for fook's sake, but it makes some decent points about how Amtrak is not, and never has been, expected to run a tight ship.)
posted by brain cloud at 10:15 PM on November 1, 2007

I ... don't know what just happened there.
posted by blacklite at 10:18 PM on November 1, 2007

'Pendolino trains emit 76% less CO2 than cars or domestic flights'
Surely cars aren't as bad as domestic flights?
posted by edd at 11:03 PM on November 1, 2007

So... these new... eco-furries... will solve our environmental problems?
posted by Krrrlson at 11:26 PM on November 1, 2007

'Pendolino trains emit 76% less CO2 than cars or domestic flights'

I assume this means that Virgin planes, with their massive emissions, don't fly internally?

Also, British rail has long been defunct, which is why Branson and others can operate trains in the UK. Unless, that is, you meant "railways in the UK".
posted by TheDonF at 12:09 AM on November 2, 2007

Surely cars aren't as bad as domestic flights?Answered, in various ways, here.

More broadly, the association of climate changes with orgies is unlikely to put people off, although the thought of mixed-species ones might - I mean, who wants to be buggered by a Swedish sparrowhawk?
posted by imperium at 12:43 AM on November 2, 2007

Only tangentially related, but why is train travel in the US so fucking expensive?

Yeah, no kidding. I lived in the UK for a few years, got use to trains and buses, and when I moved back to Southern California, I figured I'd make the best of what little public transport there is. Turns out that Metrolink here is more expensive (and much less convenient) than driving my moderately efficient car.
posted by bcveen at 1:09 AM on November 2, 2007

While the trains here in England are better than I remember they were back in the US, they've still got a long way to go to catch up with services on The Continent.

I spent last summer living in Amsterdam with my then fiancée now wife, and took Dutch trains pretty much every day to get to work.

Fast, reliable and far cheaper (judging solely by time traveled mind you) than those here in the UK. Also, connecting services seem to work most of the time. Overall a very positive experience.

I suspect the services are subsidised to some extent at the state level, and the Dutch government seems to manage the rail companies tighter than those here England, but the services have been privatised.

Still, the locals complain about quality of service. Well, from 2003 to 2006 I commuted daily from London Bridge Station to Redhill, Surrey and boy was that a negative experience.

So much so that now I won't even consider a job unless I can walk to work.
posted by Mutant at 1:09 AM on November 2, 2007

Missed this point somehow: back in 2002 I was dating a Kiwi who lived in Paris, and spent several months living there and commuting out to Suresnes Longchamps every day.

I had the same experience in terms of service levels on French trains: fast, reliable and very pleasant.

I'm not sure about pricing as that was years ago but there train service in the UK seems to significantly lag behind what The Continentals provide.
posted by Mutant at 1:13 AM on November 2, 2007

My limited experience of continental train travel would tend to back up the above. In general, trains on the continent are faster, more reliable and considerably cheaper than those in the UK. That said, I get a Virgin train from London to Birmingham and back once a fortnight and the service has noticably improved over the last few years.
posted by MrMustard at 2:00 AM on November 2, 2007

Renationalise the lot. Including the Ffestiniog Railway.
posted by Abiezer at 2:01 AM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Things are better than they were on the trains, from five years' experience as a commuter into London. On joining things up, TransportDirect is a good effort, though I'd rather it didn't add car routes in.

I think European railways are generally better than UK railways, but there is a potential halo effect from the fact that I usually take trains abroad when I'm holiday, and usually take trains in England when I'm working.
posted by athenian at 2:21 AM on November 2, 2007

Things are better than they were on the trains

Probably because of the amount of extra money that has been dumped into the system, both from taxpayers and farepayers.
posted by grouse at 2:31 AM on November 2, 2007

empath writes "why is train travel in the US so fucking expensive? "

Lower population density, central planning the encourges car use, and lack of investment. The last is big, US governments spend a tiny fraction of their infrastructure dollars on rail transport and then just a small fraction of that fraction is for support of passenger rail. Rail travel would be, well maybe not glorious, but practically immeasurably better if airport funding and passenger funding were inverted.

One of the key things is Europe (and Japan) has dedicated passenger right rail right of ways. Passenger rail in the states is almost wholly over lines shared with slow moving freight which means speeds are slow and schedules are essentially set by the freight companies not Amtrack. So of course you have long layovers and poor connections.
posted by Mitheral at 3:05 AM on November 2, 2007

To be fair though, if you look at English train fares on a £/hour basis it ends up looking very cheap indeed.
posted by atrazine at 3:27 AM on November 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

Because of all of the delays?
posted by grouse at 3:30 AM on November 2, 2007

"One of the key things is Europe (and Japan) has dedicated passenger right rail right of ways."

Not only for trains, but (at least in parts of Holland) also for buses.

In Almere, where the wife and I keep a flat, I've been impressed by the busbaan, special bus only lanes that typically (but not always) run parallel to normal roads.

When intersections occur the traffic lights are coordinated so the bus doesn't have to slow or stop, rather other traffic (presumably lorries and lower density passenger vehicles) automatically gets a red light so the bus can continue at speed.

As far as mass transit concepts go, I've found busbaan to be very well designed and very executed. It's not uncommon to see buses - travelling on their own, dedicated lanes - whizzing past stopped passenger cars.
posted by Mutant at 3:36 AM on November 2, 2007

In the UK the county council tears up railways to give us such a guided busway. Brilliant.
posted by grouse at 4:02 AM on November 2, 2007

The UK rail network is the world's oldest and we are a pretty densely populated country. This makes infrastructure improvements more expensive than countries like France where there is more space to slap down the odd new TGV line. Short termism does not help either however. Each morning I commute over this which is a good example of what can be done when you take a long term view.
posted by rongorongo at 4:03 AM on November 2, 2007

Continental trains are extremely good for long distance travel (though not cheap as often geared to business travellers), good for commuting depending where and which city (I hear from colleagues that getting to/from La Defense in Paris is still a pain compared to Canary Wharf) and dreadful for local services. Trying to travel anywhere in rural France on local trains is an exercise in frustration... and don't even bother on a Sunday.
posted by patricio at 4:04 AM on November 2, 2007

Trains in the UK are too slow, too inflexible and too expensive. Me and the mrs were going to Bingley the other weekend for a wedding - a trip of some 200 miles. We left booking late and it would have cost us £150 and coming back on the Sunday (never travel on British trains on a Sunday if you can help it) would have taken over four hours. We hired a car for £80, plus £40 in petrol.

I used to regularly commute between London and Edinburgh. The fastest train (post Hatfield) is 4.5 hours, and it costs around £80 unless you are super organised and book weeks in advance. Going by plane I could do it door to door in under 4 hours and it cost about the same.
posted by ComfySofa at 4:28 AM on November 2, 2007

I went to a funeral the other day and was encouraged online to save money by buying two singles (£36 instead of £60 - which I thought quite steep for Manchester-Bridgend). I had to reschedule one of the tickets for the day earlier, and was charged £10 of my £18 to do so. Also they had no £18 tickets left and I had to get a £23 one. It was an enormous pain, especially as the train broke down just outside Cardiff.

Still, it;s far the best way to travel when it's not crowded. Little tables to sit at, trolleys full of (overpriced) crisps and beer and country scenery going past the window. It's odd how much countryside you see going past when this is supposed to be such a densely-populated place.
posted by grapefruitzzz at 4:38 AM on November 2, 2007

In the UK the county council tears up railways to give us such a guided busway. Brilliant.

Actually, it is. If there isn't enough traffic to run a full railway, a busway means you can still service the route at lower costs. By being dedicated, it's still rapid transit -- not as fast as a Pendelino on the WCML, but it's not a bus stuck in traffic.

Far more important is that they keep the right of way. Should traffic grow, you add more buses. Should it continue to grow, you can then lay tracks and go back to rail.

Convert that right of way to a public road, and it'll never come back.
posted by eriko at 4:57 AM on November 2, 2007

The guided busway idea is a rockstar. Let's get some more of those happening.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:11 AM on November 2, 2007

Trains in Canada are pretty expensive too. I was thinking of taking the train from Toronto to Vancouver... it's supposed to be very scenic. It's $400 for a 3-day trip, one-way, per-person, without a sleeper. And you still have to fly back.
posted by smackfu at 5:32 AM on November 2, 2007

Most of the time when I'm driving in the neighbourhood I'm daydreaming about all the railways and tunnels I see around which are not used anymore and what a pleasure it would be to sit in a little train, reading a book or a newspaper, taking a little nap, instead of being trapped in that car for hours. It's true that it's impossible to travel by train in rural areas in France. But there used to be many lines which are still around, if no trains ever use them.
posted by nicolin at 5:35 AM on November 2, 2007

Actually, it is.

Actually, it's not in this case. The Cambridgeshire Guided Bus is pretty misconceived for a variety of reasons. The main one is that all of the separated guideway will be in low-traffic areas. As soon as it gets to the outskirts of the city, they dump all the buses out onto the already-congested streets, where they then travel at a crawl just like all the other buses to the city centre.

No one in the city seems to want it. Common opinion is that it would be better to wait until the funds to rebuild the railway become available. But the city council doesn't control it.
posted by grouse at 5:38 AM on November 2, 2007

it costs around £80 unless you are super organised and book weeks in advance. Going by plane I could do it door to door in under 4 hours and it cost about the same.

I don't understand why always the apples-to-oranges comparisons with trains and planes. To buy a ticket for a flight London-Edinburgh tonight costs more than GBP 210. Unless you are "super organized" and book in advance. If you're organized to book in advance for the plane, why not for the train?

Personally I'd be willing to spend slightly more time door-to-door taking a train because I would get to avoid the security circus.
posted by grouse at 5:43 AM on November 2, 2007

Trains are indeed fairly environmentally benign compared to cars and planes. I love train travel - yes, train travel in the UK, in all its frstrating glory.

This ad is a bit two-faced, though, considering that Branson is also behind Virgin Galactic, which blasts rich people into space for half an hour, the most grotesquely environmentally destructive theme-park ride in the whole sorry history of environmental destruction. And his airlines, of course, but they are at least useful for all their wanton pollution.
posted by WPW at 6:02 AM on November 2, 2007

it would be better to wait until the funds to rebuild the railway become available

Does this refer to anything concrete? My understanding was that there was zero prospect of this actually ever happening, hence the plan to use the route for something, even if it isn't ideal.
posted by cillit bang at 7:21 AM on November 2, 2007

I'd love to use the trains more. Virgin runs the Cross Country Service from Gloucester, where I live, to Newcastle-Upon -Tyne, where my parents live. Virgin Trains cost £90+ and take 5 hours. In contrast, I can fly from Bristol to Newcastle for £50, taking 3 hours door-to-door or drive for £60ish petrol costs, taking 4 hours.

I'm willing to take a bit longer over the journey, but 50% more expensive and an hour longer than the next worst alternative is just too much. Of course, if you drive and have a passenger, both costs and environmental impact halve.

Unfortunately, the Government regulate which train companies can run which services - which means that expensive products that don't meet people's needs abound, as the company's real customers are the Government. What we need is real competition in the train market...
posted by prentiz at 7:22 AM on November 2, 2007

cillit bang: There is zero prospect of the current government ever doing anything in this regard. Of course, the current government is also building a new town with 10,000 new homes along the route and I understand that their transportation models assume that all of these people are also going to be working in the new town and will not need transportation to Cambridge, London, or Peterborough. I think that is a bit unrealistic.

So who's to say what might happen in 10 years? Or 20? Perhaps with the glacial pace of new rail construction in the UK you are right—even if the need arises in 20 years it will take another 20 for it to get built.
posted by grouse at 8:36 AM on November 2, 2007

My last two train experiences (other than commuting):

UK : Virgin train to Manchester for a funeral, so had to buy ticket at short notice : £109 one way (yes, that's $220). Just over a 2 hour journey. The train was packed and dirty, litter all over the floor, toilets filthy, the only high spot being when the guard chased a dwarf who had no ticket through the carriage. Return train was late, no explanation, it came in on a different platform than displayed and we nearly missed it because there was no announcement.

USA: Penn Station to Rhinecliffe NY and back. $59 return (£28), just under a 2-hour journey. Clean, comfortable trains. Toilets as clean as an operating theatre. Helpful guards. The return train was delayed and there was plenty of information given as to reasons why and estimated arrival time, which was accurate.

I'd heard back things about Amtrak, but was pleasantly surprised.
posted by essexjan at 9:48 AM on November 2, 2007

prentiz: this is a comparison of the walk-up fare on the train (as in, the fare you pay if you just turn up) with a fare you wouldn't be able to get on the plane unless you booked a long way in advance. Apples and oranges.

I was trying to book some last-ish minute tickets to Spain a couple of weeks ago - two weeks before travel - and plane travel was £250 per person minimum, while train travel was £275 including the Eurostar and a sleeper from Paris to Barcelona and back.
posted by athenian at 10:23 AM on November 2, 2007

Bah, crazy Eurostar pricing? That's nothing athenian.

I once phoned up to book tickets on the Eurostar.

"We're having a special offer, but I am obliged to tell you the terms and conditions of this offer in full before I can accept your answer. This sounds strange now, but this is an obligation we have."
"Would you like a free upgrade to first class?"
"Before you answer, I must, as I said, tell you terms and conditions. If you choose not to upgrade to first class, there is a £20 surcharge to travel in standard class. So, sir, would you like a free upgrade to first class?"
"Well, yes."
"I thought you'd say that. Have a nice trip."
posted by edd at 10:31 AM on November 2, 2007

If you're organized to book in advance for the plane, why not for the train?

I found that if I booked Edinburgh to London on the plane and the train at the same time in advance the train would work out slower and just as expensive as the plane. That's with all the security hassle of the airport and connections.

Hmm... OK, so looking for this weekend (Sat to Sun), Edinburgh to London's around £125 return on the plane - plus about £25 to and from the airports - and only £100 on the train. But the train takes over 6 hours each way! Next weekend (super organised) it's £87 (+£25) on the plane and £98 on the train..

I like trains when they're good - France seems to have good trains from what I've seen - but in the UK they're a bit rubbish. I was only just now in Euston trying to wave off a friend who, despite having a ticket to Preston, found they weren't letting any more people on the train because it was full, so she and lots of other disgruntled people had to get a later one.
posted by ComfySofa at 11:13 AM on November 2, 2007

ComfySofa: The full train to Preston is in part because the UK railways have always resisted the 100% compulsory reservations common on long-distance trains in the rest of Europe. You just can't get a TGV to Marseilles from Paris without a seat to sit in. However, you can walk up to any ticket office in the UK and get a saver ticket that allows you on most trains (or an open ticket that allows you on any), no matter how many other people want to travel at the same time.

I think this is probably a bad thing on balance because it leads to very overcrowded trains. However, this is one area where the UK has the edge over other European systems on convenience.
posted by athenian at 5:10 PM on November 2, 2007

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