There has been a lot in the press about the news that Virgin Trains has lost its franchise on the West Coast Mainline, to be replaced by First Group.
Indeed the outpouring on Twitter at the news was amazing. From that medium at least, First Group has few fans. And having travelled by First Great Western and First Capital Connect, I'm not entirely surprised by that.
What gets me is that First Group have, in some quarters anyway, a truly appalling reputation. And if I was anyone at First Group I'd be asking the serious question of "just why do people seem to truly hate us?"
For example, can there be any rail operator that stirs up such negative reaction as First Great Western or Scotrail? Now few rail companies are truly perfect - even Virgin Trains has its flaws - but First just seems to really wind people up.
A big problem is the way that they seem to treat passengers as some sort of complete annoyance - like they'd rather us not be there at all. It's like they'd be much happier if everyone just stayed at home and let them run empty trains.
However they also have a substantial failing with their brand. FIRST. It's surely supposed to be some symbolic "We are the best! We get there FIRST!" And maybe if they were, it would be all fine. However given the company's customer service record is far from good, it just makes things worse. The brand looks arrogant and complacent. And then there's the fact that their branding leaves them more open than most companies to manipulation.
For some reason no one in FirstGroup seems to have clicked that their passengers have special names. It's not First Great Western. It's Worst Great Western. It's not First Capital Connect. No. It's Worst Capital Connect (or indeed, Worst Crapital Connect.)
Maybe if the company had a little more humility both in the way its treats customers and in its branding, it might well get a better public perception. Sadly there seems to be little hope that that will ever happen. The fact that nothing ever seems to change or improve at First suggests that the company have the same arrogance in management as they do in their brand. They really do believe themselves to be FIRST. And that means there's simply no hope for us all.
Ironically there's one area of First's operations that I do rate very highly. Their sleeper train services are generally excellent with consistently (in my experience) high quality customer service. If only the rest of the operation was that good.
Incidentally, I am aware that the train photographed is in Silverlink branding. However the train was operated by First Great Western at the time the picture was taken.