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Proposals for long-distance train services to become reservation-only have been suggested by Virgin Trains, in a plan to eliminate standing on overcrowded services.

The train operating company has put forward its suggestions to ‘overhaul the UK rail industry’, which include long-distance services being run simultaneously by multiple operators — similar to the way airlines are run — forcing companies to offer better quality service at low prices in order to attract and retain customers.

The reservation-only system would allow every passenger to be allocated a seat, effectively abolishing the need to stand — or, as we’ve often found ourselves doing, sitting on the floor in the vestibules. No indication has been given as to when the cut-off for reservations would be before a service departs, or what it would mean for anyone making urgent last-minute trips.

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Virgin also advocates giving private operators more long-term control over certain lines, allowing them to focus on improving services over several years, rather than franchises being renewed every couple of years, as it currently the case.

It comes at at a time when Virgin Trains’ own grip on the UK rail industry is diminishing; it lost its Virgin Coast East Trains franchise to publicly-owned LNER in summer 2018, and its West Coast service will cease to run in March 2020.

However, Patrick McCall, Senior Partner at Virgin Group, said

This submission was written before the recent Government decision to disqualify our bid for the West Coast Partnership. However, we believe the recommendations are more pertinent than ever given this news.

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Virgin Trains suggests the East Coast route or HS2 as ideal places to roll-out these new implementations. However, it’s worth highlighting that at the moment they very much remain suggestions, with the rail industry under no obligation (and let’s be honest, unlikely) to take them on board.

Some might go as far as to say it smacks of an ousted train operator increasingly desperate to stay relevant in the ever-evolving rail industry. There’s no doubt that the railway system needs an overhaul, but are Virgin Trains’ suggestions helpful? Let us know in the comments.

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