A recent (now deleted) tweet from National Rail Enquiries said during a recent incident where the east coast mainline was blocked:
#Stevenage Virgin Trains East Coast passengers are no longer permitted to use Virgin Train [sic] services
This is because Virgin Trains is the name of the operator of the west coast mainline and owns virgintrains.co.uk and @VirginTrains - it is operated by the Virgin Rail Group which is 51% owned by Virgin and 49% by Stagecoach.
However, Virgin Trains East Coast, a separate company 90% owned by Stagecoach shares advertising resources with the west coast and uses the Virgin Trains logo and refers to themselves as Virgin Trains on-board. Unlike the west coast, the east coast franchise still clearly indicates east coast on their website.
Although it's confusing it is understandable why from a marketing perspective they want to pool resources and appear as a unified brand. There's many companies that franchise out their brand so why from a customer perspective does this actually matter that they're separate companies?
- People think 'Virgin Trains' is the master brand covering both franchises. @VirginTrains often get tweets regarding the East Coast service, they get accused of 'passing the buck' when they pass over the tweet to Virgin Trains East Coast, I've even seen some customers think they're escalating their complaint to Virgin Trains East Coast by adding @VirginTrains in to the loop.
- If a customer submits a complaint to the wrong franchise it lakes longer for the complaint to be resolved as it has to be passed on to the correct operator.
- If a user books on the wrong website, some of the benefits of booking direct won't apply such as free WiFi in standard, Flying Club miles or any special promotional fares such as sales. (Note: Virgin Trains does redirect to the east coast website in certain circumstances when booking a ticket on the east coast mainline but this doesn't work in all scenarios)
- As they're separate companies it's not guaranteed they will accept each others tickets in the event of a disruption, just like with other operators ticket acceptance has to be agreed between them so you need to look out for announcements.
What needs to happen?
Stagecoach want to take advantage of the Virgin brand but from a customer perspective there needs to be a bigger effort to avoid confusion. I think the following would go a long way to reduce confusion.
- Rename 'Virgin Trains' to 'Virgin Trains West Coast', their website would be virgintrainswestcoast.com - the current virgintrains.co.uk would be a portal site linking to the two Virgin franchises.
- Use 'Virgin Trains West Coast' and 'Virgin Trains East Coast' when making announcements about disruption and ticket acceptance. It should also be used on the address for customer relations so customers are less likely to send it to the wrong franchise.
- They can still use 'Virgin Trains' when doing advertising or making announcements on trains unless it's a station (such as Edinburgh) served by both franchises.
I can't see why they can't do these steps, it doesn't water down the Virgin brand too much but would help reduce confusion.
Posts in the blogs section may not represent the views of Save East Coast Rewards.