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"Cross Country Trains" by Andy Cooper, Managing Director of Cross Country Trains - Dundee meeting of 18th November 2008

The November Dundee meeting was addressed by Andy Cooper, the Managing Director of Cross Country Trains and he provided an insight into the the first year of the Cross Country franchise under Arriva ownership. The Arriva group operates transport services across Europe, with bus, coach and other transport interests in Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the UK and Poland. The company provides rail services in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Poland. The group has over 38,000 staff and carries over 1 billion passengers a year.

The Cross Country franchise was awarded to Arriva in 2007 and services began on 11 November 2007. The company serves 131 stations across the UK and has a route network of 1,654 miles. The company currently employs some 1,800 staff and there are 288 services on weekdays. The network of services is centred on Birmingham and the longest train service is from Dundee to Penzance, a distance of 701 miles. The franchise runs until March 2016 and is the largest rail operation in the group.

The Cross Country franchise is different from other rail operations in that it connects 7 out of 10 of the largest towns and cities, but not London. It has no stations and no ticket offices, relying on the internet and commission based ticket sales. It is a major buyer of services from other companies in the rail industry and works closely with other rail operators. The company primarily "meets" its customers on trains or "on the web" with the focus on meting and greeting.

There are no dominant passenger flows, and some 40% of passengers use a second train as part of their journey. The core of the network is the Birmingham area, generating most revenue and this accounts for approximately 20% of the business. The company does more than just operate trains, it manages passenger's journeys. Most of the UK is just one train change away from a Cross Country service and the timetable introduced in December 2008 improved interchange opportunities.

The company has train maintenance depots around the country and train crew centres are located at strategic points around the network from Edinburgh to Plymouth. Route control is also located at various points, usually network rail control centres. However, one of the challenges is that network Rail's control regions are different to Cross Country's control regions. Train service performance has improved since the start of the franchise, rising from 86.2% to 89.4% in terms of reliability and further improvements are planned to further increase reliability.

Information is important and it has been found that only 8% of passengers now use pocket timetables. Most people use real time information, the internet or mobile phones to get information. Cross Country has on-line route planning for journeys and can provide customers with individual timetables tailored for each customers journeys. The company is at the leading edge of on-line ticket sales and has also invested in mobile phone ticketing.

The company is also moving away from having "fares" to offering the best "available price" for a journey, as well as the cheapest price. Passengers will be guided to the best value fares and interchange options. Seat reservations are also being managed dynamically, enabling them to be made much nearer to departure time than before. Staff on trains have access to more information that enables real time seat allocations to be made. Passengers can also receive personalised journey updated via mobile phone SMS services.

A commitment to a number of improvements were included as part of the franchise agreement, for example, increasing seating capacity during the evening peak on principal routes by 35%; providing catering at all seats; improving ticketing and reservation booking; improvements to rolling stock and train refurbishments; the reintroduction of HST's to provide 50 seat trains on busy routes and the provision of W-Fi to all passengers on Voyager and HST services, this being free to Fist Class passengers.

Looking at the rolling stock, Mr. Cooper outlined the trains that the company currently operates and detailed improvements that are being made. Ten HST power cars were completely overhauled and fitted with new MTU built engines improving reliability and efficiency and also producing lower emissions. Passenger carriages for these trains were also overhauled and each train operates in a two power car and eight carriage formation.

Refurbishment of the company's 29 Class 170 two and three car Turbostar trains is also underway. This involves a complete interior refurbishment with retrimmed seats, new carpeting and power points being installed at seats in the First Class portions of each train. All refurbished trains are being repainted into the company's new livery.

A major upgrade to the Voyager fleet is also underway with additional seats being installed along with more luggage space. The addition seating is being provided by revising the seating layout and by replacing the existing luggage racks, more luggage space can be created. The existing on-board shop is being removed and some of this space will be used for luggage and will incorporate a cycle storage area. Catering will be provided by an "at seat" service throughout the trains.

Mr. Cooper rounded off his prentation by demonstrating some of the key features of the new website launched by Cross Country and showed how easy it was to get a timetable tqilored to meet a customer's individual requirements. There was a lengthy question and answer session after which the Chairman drew proceedings to a close with the presentatio of a Scottish Region engraved quaich in recognition of Mr. Cooper taking the time to come to Scotland to address the meeting.

Further information on Cross Country can be found on their website at www.crosscountrytrains.co.uk/ where timetable information can be found and on line ticket reservations made.

Report by John Fender.

 

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