Branson Delivers four-letter verdict on Virgin Trains
By Jason Nisse, Business Editor
The Independent on Sunday.

AT LAST Sir Richard Branson has given his verdict on Britains most criticised rail service - his own.   Sir Richard said of Virgin Trains:  "They're f~~~ed."

His remark came in an interview with the Independent on Sunday's "Review" magazine.  The entrepreneur was answering his own joking question:  "Do you know why we're changing the name of Virgin Trains?"

Sir Richard's comment echoes the infamous jibe by jewellery boss Gerald Ratner in 1991 when he said that the much-ridiculed trinkets sold at rock-bottom prices in his stores were "crap".  Mr. Ratner insisted the remark was a joke, but the result was a terminal fall in sales, a plummeting share price and, later, his exit.

Virgin Trains has been heavily criticised for lateness, cancellations and high fares.  In the interview, Sir Richard answered this much-publicised customer dissatisfaction by insisting his company takes on challenges that other companies will not touch "to make customers a lot happier".

Citing "Britains most dilapidated railway line", he said: "The best thing Virgin will be known for, three years from now, the best thing we have done for this country, I believe people will say, is transforming the West Coast main line from the worst to the best."

Sir Richard gave the interview ahead of publication of what is believed to be a critical biography of him by Tom Bower, the writer behind exposés of Robert Maxwell, Tiny Rowland and Mohammed al-Fayed.  His remarks also come as Virgin tries to expand rail operations with a bid to take over the Great North Eastern franchise.  A decision is expected in September.

By then, Sir Richard should know if his People's Lottery bid has ousted camelot to run the National Lottery.  despite personal holdings estimated at £2.4bn, many of his companies are not having a good year.

Virgin Express lost more in this years first quarter than it did in the whole of 1999; in its last reported year.  Virgin Direct lost £20.4m. and V2 Music had an annual deficit in excess of £48m.  Against the results can be set the huge assets of Virgin Rail and Virgin Atlantic.

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