UK: Speed Not the Goal, Says Virgin

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Rail has reacted coolly to Scottish Government plans for a high-speed cross-border rail route, arguing that speed itself should not be the goal.

Asked by The Herald what he thought of the £15 billion proposal, Sir Richard indicated that his priority is to link the high-speed route under consideration by Westminster for England with the West Coast Mainline to Scotland.

"What I would like to see is, when they do the new high-speed link, that they allow trains like the Pendolino trains so that they can go all the way up to Scotland rather than have trains that stop at Birmingham," he said.

Tony Collins, chief executive of Virgin Trains, added: "Sometimes high-speed is seen as the goal, not the means to an end. It is about what is the right service and what is the right journey time and frequency north of the Border to Glasgow, Edinburgh and reverse-engineering the service to meet that."

Sir Richard was speaking as he and Sir Brian Souter of Stagecoach launched joint venture Virgin Rail s bid to retain the West Coast Mainline franchise at London s Euston station.

Bids will be submitted in May, with the winner announced in September for a franchise from December 2012 to March 2026.

The company has unspecified radical ideas for the franchise, Sir Richard said. He said its proposal would see billions of pounds handed to the Treasury.

But he warned the Government against accepting low-cost bids from rivals, including state-backed continental companies.

"If you go for the bottom line, you are going to get a service where you are going to have the cheapest trains, the cheapest quality of service, the cheapest seats, the cheapest staff and that is not what people want."

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