Canny canines with a nose for a good deal will be taking their rail journeys with Virgin Trains from now on.
That’s because should the worst happen and their service be interrupted, the dogs – and their lucky owners, of course – will be transferred to specially kitted-out Mercedes Benz Vito vans.
Fraser Eagle Management Services (FEMS), the leading supplier of replacement road transport for use in the event of routine or emergency interruptions to train services, is now running 15 new 2.7-tonne Vitos.
They are the first vehicles on the Fraser Eagle fleet to wear the famous three-pointed star, and are strategically located to provide cover for Virgin Trains passengers using the 25-mile track section of mainline between Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes, which is currently the subject of a major engineering programme.
As Maurice Duckworth, Production Director with FEMS, explains: "It’s entirely understandable that rail passengers do not enjoy having their journeys interrupted by engineering work resulting in a transfer to road transport. It’s our job to make the experience as pleasant as possible for them.
"Most passengers will continue their journey aboard a conventional coach, on which they will be served with complimentary refreshments. But problems can arise if they also have a dog travelling with them – we have to consider the feelings of other passengers who for a variety of reasons may not want to travel in close confines with a dog. Likewise, the animal itself may become distressed on a coach. That’s where our new Mercedes come in."
Supplied by Liverpool dealer, Road Range Commercials, the vans are 108CDI models, powered by smooth and efficient direct injection common-rail diesel engines. Each has a second row of seats behind the driver and front-seat passenger, with plenty of room for luggage. The load area, meanwhile, has been converted by Manchester-based specialist UVS, which fitted a bulkhead and roof-mounted rotary vent to ensure a constant flow of fresh air. The dogs travel in their own comfortable, easily-cleaned enclosures – the Vito is spacious enough to accommodate two large dogs and, if necessary, a third, smaller one.
Although the new Mercedes are operating solely on its Virgin Trains contract, fast-growing Fraser Eagle Management Services provides road transport back-up to around half of the UK’s rail operating companies. Mercedes Benz has high hopes of developing its business with this prestigious new customer – Road Range is also tendering for several 2.8-tonne Mercedes Sprinters, which would be used by FEMS to transport rail passengers’ bicycles safely and securely.
As well as providing road transport solutions for rail companies, FEMS, which is based in Accrington, Lancashire, operates a range of high-quality services, including executive coach charter, leisure travel, limousine services, group travel and corporate hospitality.
It was the Vito’s use by Lancashire Police dog handlers that first prompted FEMS to consider it for this important new role. Mr Duckworth is also an inspector in the Special Constabulary, while two other members of the FEMS team are ex-police sergeants with dog-handling experience.
"We had a good look at the police vehicles and liked what we saw, so at that point we began talking to Mercedes Benz," he says. "Everything came together beautifully: the Vito is the ideal size for the job, the residual values are high and the back-up looks excellent, while the three-pointed star is a byword for quality. What’s more, the Mercedes Benz team were very professional throughout."
He adds: "We pride ourselves on working in partnership with Virgin Trains to ensure that its customers receive the highest quality of service when part of their rail journey has to be made by road. These new Mercedes provide another important means by which we are able to achieve that end."
Peter Lambert, Van Sales & Marketing Director for Mercedes Benz, declares: "Fraser Eagle Management Services' expertise in logistics and incident management is second to none. It relies heavily on the very latest technology and it is entirely fitting, therefore, that its most recent investments have been in the Mercedes Benz Vito, the most advanced light van available today. I am optimistic that this will prove to be the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership between our two companies."
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