Chiltern’s novel approach to first class

Chiltern is launching its new ‘Mainline’ service between London and the West Midlands, with loco hauled stock, a simplified fare structure and a first class – well, sort of, as its a business premium obtainable for a £20 supplement.

Chiltern in fact scrapped first class on its first trains years ago, arguing that it took up more space and did not bring in much revenue. Its return to having a premium product is interesting and may point the way to the future. It is clear that with private business under tight constraints and civil servants and even MPs now banned from 1st class, there is much overprovision on other routes and it is high time that was recognised. The Pendolinos are only the most obvious example, and I suspect some of the more innovative bidders for West Coast will realise that converting some of those ever empty carriages to standard class would bring in extra revenue.

The other interesting aspect about the Chiltern launch is the extent to which the new improved service will take people off the Pendolinos. The prospect of sitting in a Mk3 coach for 100 minutes, rather than a smelly (sorry Virgin but they still are) cramped Pendolino for 85 at a cheaper price is very tempting.  Adrian Shooter, Chiltern’s boss, is a fan of HS2 but by adding so much capacity on the route, is he not undermining the case for it?

  • Anonymous

    The strange thing is that the ‘premium economy’ Business Zone offers very little extra to Chiltern’s excellent Standard Class offering. I just don’t see why passengers will pay an additional £20 for extra legroom & seat width… But I wait to be proved wrong!

  • I have to agree: MK3 coaches are much more pleasant than pendos and arriving into Snow Hill/Moor Street or Marylebone are much more relaxed than the busier termini.

  • Dobby

    Orcats raid for some of virgin’s firs class revenue.

  • Ian Raymond

    All power to Adrian Shooter…. who seems to understand a lot more about what his customers want than the average operator. (Or who possesses better business acumen. Or both.) Just hope that the marketing works so that enough people are aware of this and how much superior an offer it is compared to the alternative!

    (Psst. Message to Adrian… Fancy taking over the diabolical x-country services?)

  • Christian Wolmar

    Really? Is it considered the same route when its different stations? Interesting thought if correct

  • Stuart Hamlin

    Agree that 1st class is largely pointless these days. Pity East Mids Trains still waste half their capacity carting three coachloads of (high class) air around. Indeed they seem to be trying to make it even more exclusive: I and a few fellow passengers were told off by the guard for walking through a 1st class coach to get off the other day. There were no actual passengers in 1st class, only train crew playing with their Blackberries so I’m not sure why the fuss…

  • Chris Packham

    Will be interesting to see if Virgin’s 20 minute frequency from Birmingham to London can be sustained off peak when Chiltern’s Mainline gets established, and whether West Coast franchise bidders will take this into account. Chiltern’s transformation of its route for really quite modest investment is remarkable.

  • Dobby

    of course, virgin sets the birm to london flow and thus chiltern gets a share.  now their journey time is so much faster they will get a nice little earner out of this 

  • Keith

    Would it be better if first class was always a fixed supplement (payable on the train if you want) rather than a separate fare structure?  We have the nonsense of first class fares available for five-minute journeys and the like.

  • Windsorian

    Fully agree the DB Chiltern Evergreen project should set the benchmark for all future rail franchises.

    It is competition that will promote innovation and has the potential to reduce rail fares.

    If Virgin want to withdraw some services, then the slots should be made available to other train operators.

    Anyway, let’s hope the new West Coast franchise addresses the problem of the number of empty 1st Class seats.

  • Fandroid

    There was quite a lot of activity into & out of the Virgin First Class Lounge at Euston around 5pm on Friday. (I was visiting the Britannia pub). If Chiltern want to grab the Birmingham business market, they will probably need to ensure the whole package (including accommodation at each end) provides some comfort and exclusivity.

  • Dobby

    notice 1) a new marketing campaign today from VT – fly virgin trains – highlighting the frequency and speed of VT 2) that chiltern continue to promote cheap advance fares, it direct contradiction of their plan to ‘simplify fares’ – what a load of PR fluff that was!

  • @6e360c32fea1126f967cf3a684840b7e:disqus “It is competition that will promote innovation and has the potential to reduce rail fares.”

    We were told that by the BR privatisers. There is precious little of it yet, Chiltern excepted.

  • Chris

    Christian, your last point – trying to compare it to HS2 – is shameful. How on earth is Chiltern Mainline adding ‘so much capacity’? How does a few extra trains of Mk3’s per peak hour in 2011 IN ANYWAY compare to dozens of 400m long HSL services per peak in 2025. It makes no difference to the case at all.

    As you point out, Adrian Shooter *is in favour* of HS2 – if Chiltern was a viable alternative, dont you think he’d say so?

  • Anonymous

    Although I must say I was down sarf the other weekend and Chiltern charged me £19.50 for an off peak return from High Wycombe to London…….this Saturday past I paid £1 less for Glasgow-Perth off peak return which is nearly three times the distance.  Good value??? 
    I drove my parents’ small turbodiesel car yesterday the same distance and it returned 62mpg, which even at today’s fuel prices cost me less than £10 to make the same round trip.  Is motoring too cheap, or the train too expensive????  One to ponder.

  • Richard Hare

    In all fairness the £10 for petrol probably only accounted for half the actual motoring cost of that journey, but we all ignore the £500+ tax, insurance and servicing annual fixed costs, let alone apportion the original capital costs.  Whereas the train fare included all those elements, plus a bit of subsidy and a bit of shareholder profit.
    But virtually no one makes the full comparison, for obvious reasons. And therefore most people stick to using their cars, especially if passengers are involved.

  • Anonymous

    Yes and no really – in this case the “£500+ tax” was in fact £30 because I was driving a B-rated car for CO2 emissions – Mr Osbourne has kindly reduced this for the best performing vehicles (A-rated, if I remember correctly, such as the Toyota Prius are tax-free in the first year).

    The biggest cost of motoring is in fact depreciation – which is used in the official cost per mile comparisons of a vehicle for tax reasons.  Take that out of the equation (lets’ face it, you only suffer depreciation if you trade your car in every two or three years – if you drive an old banger that can’t depreciate any more…well do the math as they say), and you are even cheaper.  The more you drive, the less it costs.  The railway costs the same regardless how little or how often you use it – yes I know there is the season ticket of course, but that is only valid between two fixed points that you have to specify in advance. With a car you can go anywhere.

    This is the point though – it is the cost at the “point of use” that is the killer.  And that is what hits the headlines whether you like it or not.  Motorists have long written off the cost of tax, insurance and repairs because it is treated as an unavoidable overhead.  Whenever I say to work colleagues or family “I am taking the train” – the standard response I get is:

     “isn’t that really expensive?? I tried to use the train once and it cost me £xxxx – we took the car next time as it only cost us £yyyyy in petrol”.

  • Anonymous

    Surely if they simply sped up the approaches into Birmingham by doing a bit of trackwork on the WCML or built a bypass (after all they are talking about building a whole new section of track for HS2??)  they could shave a fair amount off the existing journey time.  I mean, you are up at full speed shortly after leaving the Euston approaches, and it’s pretty much 125 all the way to Rugby – 81 miles, more than 75% of the distance.  It’s all the meandering through Coventry/Birmingham Intl and the approaches into Birmingham itself when the time bleeds away. 

  • Anonymous

    I got a mailshot from VT the other day saying “it’s been a while” (in fact it has been nearly 2 years since I was last on a Pongolino).  The VHF timetable, so I thought was a means of piling it high and sell it cheap, yet trying to find even the second lowest Advance fare London-Glasgow has been like needle in haystack ever since VHF came in.

    Time after time, I’ve stayed away because East Coast has delivered better value.  Forget for the minute that I’m being a hypocrite for taking advantage of a fragmented railway, but there’s the rub – Virgin Trains have made record profits – EC, well we don’t really know do we?? If high fares are the price we have to pay to create an artificially profitable railway that will keep the private sector interested, then I rest my case. 

  • Anonymous

    Friend of mine who remembers the “good ole days” of GNER’s original first class offering, which really did have exclusivity and el cheapo Advance deals in 1st were as rare as rocking horse s**t; is now bemoaning what has happened to the 1st Class service on East Coast, whch switched to the Virgin style complimentary system a few months ago.  I have used it twice since it started and whilst the “free” food and drink was a nice thing to have, I certainly don’t think it was worth the near £300 return fare it costs London-Scotland (I didn’t pay this I hasten to add – I was taking advantage of their flat £50 return deal they were doing a month or two back). 

    Now that they are allowing the ‘great unwashed’ to sit in the comfy seats, I do question the exclusivity of it and how they can justify these sort of prices, unless they went back to the strict demarcation you get on airlines. 

  • Derek Louw

    On car travel comparative costs I have (I must have been really bored) looked at the AA and similar type costs analyses of running a car – roughly half is fixed costs (and a lot of that depreciation, which does not apply at the old banger end), the rest the opportunity cost – so if the cost of your car is, say, 36p a mile on an AA/RAC rating, the opportunity cost is about 18p per mile, and, at the time I looked at it, the fuel element was about 10p, so, if you are so minded, you can estimate car opportunity running costs at fuel plus around 80%.

    I estimated that if you are on your own, train is cheaper on off-peak fares, but as soon as you add one passenger the car tends to win (on price, some of us like to travel by train).

  • Ian Raymond

    The myth of competition was one of the biggest errors in perception in the way the railways were privatised. The competitions should be viewed as being the private car, internal air services (and perhasp long distance coaches???) – NOT other parts of the same formerly unified network!

  • Ian Raymond

    Good point Rapid. Now, I’m only learning to drive to avoid having to use x-country in its current format… but the cost outlay for the vehicle in all likelihood means that the trips I currently make on ATW / Northern / Virgin will also be lost to road. The ‘I’ve paid for it so might as well use it’ philosophy!

  • Absolutely right Ian. Understanding of transport is so sadly lacking amongst our “leaders”,

    Being something of a transport historian, the last government we had that had a coherent transport policy were the Romans. Everything since then has been done with the intention of avoiding spending money.

    I’d even go so far as to say that if governments and others of the late 18th/early 19th centuries had had their wits about them and developed the roads to accommodate the early steam carriages, mainline railways would not have been developed.

  • Anonymous

    Despite all the doom mongering over fuel prices…the fact is this, every time we have one of these fuel crises it sparks a technological race within the automotive industry to improve fuel economy – the Suez Crisis drove a trend towards smaller cars (the Mini being the obvious outcome), the 1970s oil crisis sparked an obsession in the early 1980s with aerodynamics – now you are seeing something similar with combined turbocharging/supercharging technology (aka Volkswagen’s TSI engines, or Ford EcoNetic) and cars with stop-start….there are many small turbodiesels now with 70mpg+ potential.  This, combined with the fact that motorists eventually adjust to high fuel prices and absorb the increase means that all the talk about getting people out of their cars with trains is still a far off pipe dream.

  • Halsteadian

    Having sat in one of the new Business Coaches at the Moor St media launch on Mon, you also get a very decent amount of table space, and an adjacent socket, so working from laptop/tablet etc, will be very easy. Wi-fi is also guaranteed, and commuters may find the at-seat service of warm nosh appealing. Virgin’s COO, Chris Gibb, was at the launch, and he wasn’t there simply for the croissants, as the subsequent launch of VT’s spoiler campaign ‘Fly Virgin Trains’ demonstrated.

  • Anonymous

    Very true, on ScotRail I’ve seen horribly overcrowded trains where people have overspilled into the 1st Class sections (the 170s are configured with one at either end), and the conductor had the cheek to say over the PA: “the first class sections are for the use of first class ticket holders only”, when it was physically impossible for him to actually walk through the train to police it… you I ask what is the point on Glasgow-Stirling for example which is barely 30 minutes!

  • Percy

    “even MPs now banned from 1st class”

    I’m not sure about this one, I think they can get around it somehow, On a number of occassions I’m sure I’ve seen Joan Walley MP for Stoke in the free nosebag section on VT, either that or someone who looks very like her. I suspect there is some kind of ruling where if  an MP can use a senior citizen railcard and a first advance purchase is cheaper than standard, its back to the good old days.

    On another point I’m still not getting HS2, am I right in thinking its 2 line and not four tracks? If so those two lines are going to be its weakest link when things go wrong. All these express trains from the largely 4 line WCML, ECML & MML pile onto a two track railway and somehow thats going to have some built in surplus for recovery when things go wrong, I’m not sure.

  • Although depreciation might not cost so much money with old bangers, the repair costs nearly make up for it.  

  • Geoff_H

    Why is there this obsession against people travelling first class when someone else is paying? I used to travel fairly frequently to Warrington and I could often get an advance first-class ticket (with food and free WiFi) cheaper than a standard class ticket, plus paying for a snack and WiFi access – yet “company policy” banned first-class travel. This meant that I ended up paying more money to be less comfortable and less productive. Bonkers.

    It’s the overall cost that should be a low as possible when you are spending someone else’s money and that’s all that should matter.

  • Percy

    It started out of the MPs expenses scandal and now its looked on as taboo to travel first if your getting your wedge of the UK taxpayer even though as you point out it may often be cheaper than standard, however your average daily newspapaer hack isnt going to let that get in the way of a good story, so its probably best to just sit in steerage with Joe Public if your an MP or Civil Servant. I’m glad to hear you can readily get cheap deals to Warrington, but I’m also not surprised as I cant see that many people – apart from Pete Waterman –  wanting to go there.

  • Geoff_H

    TBH, it was going on in companies way before the MPs expenses scandal. Back then, it was more of a status thing – 1st class was for directors and senior staff only! You are right about the newspaper hacks though – never let the facts get in the way of a good story! Of course, the idiot MP who complained that he had to sit in 1st to get away from the noise of the plebs – even if they were the plebs that elected him – chose the worst possible reason from a PR standpoint.

    Incidentally, the immediate view from Warrington station may be a hideous chemical works, but there are quite a number of tech companies around the outskirts of the town, e.g. in Birchwood. I used to travel there quite often to an office of the one of the UK’s largest broadband/phone ISPs. Warrington was the first stop out of Euston – very convenient.

  • Pottshrigley

    Yes I remember that famous MPs PR gaff, it was Sir Nicholas Winterton of the Macclesfield constituency not that far from Warrington in fact, a Dinosaur grazing if ever there was one, long past his sell by date and only there because the Macclesfield constituency would vote for a monkey with a balloon if it was wearing the right colour Rosette.

    Warrington Town Hall gates are quite impressive but I’m not a big fan of the petro chemical industries around that area having spent much time around them in the past  they have a certain smell that reminds me of Warrington / Ellsmere Port / Runcorn etc, also the whole Warrington Runcorn New Town warehouse architechture is visually very unpleasing but at least its jobs & industry and I guess therein lies the trade off.  Even though I was born in the County I’m not a big fan of Cheshire, so maybe I’m biased against it though as a Cheshire lad even I would say that Warrington is preferable to Crewe. Crewe is unfortunately no longer on the former Soviet Unions Category A target list which is a shame really as it looks like it may never be taken off the face of the earth.

    The non stop run from Warrington to Euston is your right very fast and convenient.

  • Anonymous

    East Coast are doing a £25 deal at the moment in First Class for travel up to December 16th.  Given all the frills are “free” now, makes me wonder how sustainable the service is – when they have to have the loss-leading deals (this is the second one since June) so frequently to get bums on seats.

  • montmorency

    Probably pointless replying to a 2 year old post, but I have always thought we should have a completely flat-rate fare structure … same (walk-on) fares for off-peak and off-peak. Just make it a very predictable per mile cost.

    Then have optional reservation for those who want them and reservations for peak would be more costly than off-peak reservations.

    To summarise: Very simple, (and cheap) flat-rate ticketing, and build the complexity (not as bad as today’s though), into the reservations.

    This would benefit the less well off who might only care about being able to travel, and not worry too much about where they sit, but the business traveller (or anyone else) who must travel at a particular time and be sure of a seat can still do this.