The boss of a rail firm which will take over the running of Preston Station has claimed more jobs will be created with extra services into the city.
FirstGroup has won the 13-year £5.5bn franchise to run the West Coast Mainline which had been operated by Virgin Trains since 1997. The company has promised to create a new first class waiting room at Preston’s train station.
However, union bosses have expressed fears of jobs cuts while rail campaigners have claimed on-board services could be scaled-back.
But in an interview with the Evening Post Vernon Barker managing director for FirstGroup’s rail division claimed Preston’s 451-strong workforce would not be reduced when it takes over on December 9.
He said: “We do not get to meet with them until December 9 but the message is we are very keen to take people currently employed in Preston, and have them transferred to us on December 9.
“We have a history of investing in staff quite contrary to anything you have read in the media.”
Asked whether he intended to expand the workforce, he replied: “I think it is one of the things we are quite keen to do.”
FirstGroup will initially run the timetable it inherited from Virgin Trains but claimed it will introduce a late service from London to Glasgow, stopping at Preston and more frequent services from London to Preston.
It will also introduce a direct London Euston to Blackpool service, as well as thousands of extra seats on the line.
Campaign groups have raised fears on-board services will be cut and ‘front-facing customer services staff’ will be reduced.
But Mr Barker who was previously responsible for the First TransPennine Express line, claimed such services would not be reduced.
He said: “It could not be further from the truth.
“We will need colleagues to be able to deliver this.
“Our plans are not for taking catering off, we will be taking catering services throughout the trains and we will need more customer-facing staff for our service proposals.”
Virgin Trains had announced it would carry out a major upgrade of Preston Station if it retained the franchise.
But FirstGroup has confirmed only minor alterations will be made in the short-term.
Mr Barker said: “It is a busy station and it does need to have an enhanced customer experience.
“We are talking about refurbishing a waiting room (to create first-class waiting room) but unfortunately on and around the station in terms of grand plans we need to wait until we get into the franchise at the end of the year and get to grips with it.”
Virgin Trains took over the franchise in March 1997 and has claimed a number of successes in the last 15 years.
It has seen passenger numbers more than double from 13 million to 31 million, claiming 91% customer satisfaction and the introduction of more than 70 new tilting trains at a cost of £1.5bn.
Tony Collins, Chief Executive of Virgin Rail Group, said today: “Naturally, we are all very disappointed by today’s announcement.
“We had submitted a strong, deliverable bid with emphasis on customer service which would have produced strong growth over the life of the franchise resulting in significant benefits for the taxpayer through generous premium payments to Government.”
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Monday 20 May 2013
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