Today the results of the annual Which? survey are revealed and Virgin Trains East Coast (also including the last few months of East Coast) rank in 6th place. They rank below the two East Coast open access operators (Grand Central and Hull Trains), Merseyrail, Virgin Trains (west coast) and c2c.
Now OK, the results are probably less biased than our polls due to a larger sample size but I'd still take these responses with a pinch of salt. I've travelled on all these operators except for Merseyrail and Arriva Trains Wales and think Virgin Trains East Coast definitely deserves a top three place.
There's a few issues:
- Not comparing like for like: e.g. a commuter service where all you want is for it to be on time and have a seat is different to a long distance service where you may be interested in things like catering, WiFi, power sockets and additional comfort.
- Some train companies only had a small amount of responses, both the open access operators in the top two had less than 100 responses.
- It's unlikely most people have travelled on more than a few operators so they're only comparing amongst the operators that they know.
- For some reason the survey lists London Midland as part of Govia Thameslink Railway. Although London Midland is owned by Govia (as is Southeastern), it's not part of the new expanded Thameslink franchise which includes Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express.
- We all know East Coast beats West Coast ;)
(Update: 18 Feb 2016 10:00)
Oddly enough, although Virgin Trains (west coast) were rated fourth in the survey and Virgin Trains East Coast were rated sixth Virgin has decided to issue a press release saying that Virgin Trains is the top rated long distance franchised train operator in the UK.
Although we think Virgin Trains East Coast deserved a higher rank than they did it's very misleading to spin these results as good for Virgin.
- The East Coast, West Coast and CrossCountry franchises are the only true long distance franchised operators. Others such as Great Western and East Midlands Trains also operate a large network of local services. This means their results get muddied because less 'glamourous' local services can alter the perception of the brand. So if they're going for long distance franchised operators they were top two out of three and CrossCountry have had to live with poor rolling stock decisions (Voyager trains) made when their franchise was run by Virgin.
- Virgin Trains East Coast was beaten by their two open access competitors Hull Trains and Grand Central, both can also be considered long distance operators but are not subject to franchising. If Virgin Trains East Coast are delighted with this survey they're saying they're delighted with being third best on the East Coast Mainline.
- As they're two separate operators they shouldn't lump together East Coast and West Coast together in the same press release.
So although I think the survey proves nothing, it's certainly not something Virgin should be shouting about!
(Update: 18 Feb 2016 11:10)
Virgin Trains (west coast) have shown that they're willing to mislead and have claimed on Twitter that they're the top rated long distance operator.
We've only gone and been rated as the best long distance operator in the country ... https://t.co/6NsJYnpTY6
— Virgin Trains (@VirginTrains) February 18, 2016
No mention in the Tweet that they mean 'franchised operator'. In the end does the average person that has been surveyed know the difference between franchised and open access? The only conclusion I can make is this was deliberately intended to mislead.
The Tweet does link to the west coast press release (same as the one on the east coast site) which does state 'long distance franchised operator' however there's no link in the press release or the Tweet to the actual Which? report so readers can't decide for themselves.