Virgin Scraps Friday Night Peak Restrictions

1 November 2018, 19:19 | Updated: 1 November 2018, 19:26

Virgin Train

Virgin Trains has permanently scrapped its Friday afternoon peak restrictions from Euston to Watford, Milton Keynes and beyond, to ease overcrowding and enable weekend getaways to start earlier.

The huge difference in many peak and off-peak fares previously led to huge demand for the first Friday night off-peak trains at around 7pm.

This led to many passengers embarking on a weekend getaway having to stand for up to several hours on trains to destinations such as Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Holyhead.

Virgin Trains said congestion has eased since it began a trial to end Friday afternoon peak restrictions in July and has now decided to make the change permanent.

The trial resulted in a decrease in average loading - which shows the proportion of passengers to seats - on a number of previously overcrowded services, such as:

- 7pm Euston to Manchester (from 113% to 51%)

- 7.03pm Euston to Birmingham (from 113% to 39%)

- 7.10pm Euston to Holyhead (from 123% to 85%)

Virgin reported an additional 3,500 journeys were made each Friday during the trial amid an increase in passenger satisfaction.

The firm's commercial director, Sarah Copley, said:

"Rather than everyone waiting for the first off-peak train on Friday evening, people can now travel whenever's convenient for them.

This change means we've been able to reduce congestion, whilst helping people save money and make an earlier start to their weekends."

The policy will significantly reduce the cost of many return journeys for passengers wanting to travel on Friday afternoon before 7pm, including to destinations such as Liverpool (£115.55 reduction), Manchester (£125.55 reduction) and Glasgow (£111.25 reduction).

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, praised the change, adding:

"Virgin's experience suggests some clear lessons for all train operators. We hope others do not wait long to follow suit."

Peak and off-peak fares are used by travel operators to smooth out demand by encouraging more people to travel on quieter services.

But the difference in fares can lead to a change in travel patterns, as experienced by Virgin Trains.  On the railway, peak restrictions are set by train operators, although there are constraints within franchise agreements about how and when they apply.