In a statement on its website, the train company referred to CCTV footage it has released to the media, which showed the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats before making the film, and then returning to his seat for the rest of the journey.
“CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming”, Virgin Trains said.
“The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle. Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey.”
Richard Branson tweeted a still from the footage:
Mr Corbyn had been travelling from London to Newcastle for a debate against Owen Smith. During his film, in which he is sitting on the floor, Mr Corbyn said: “This is a problem that many passengers face every day on the trains, commuters and long distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed. The staff on the train are absolutely brilliant, working really hard to help everybody. The reality is there’s not enough trains, we need more of them.”
But today a Virgin Trains spokesperson said: “we have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case. We’d encourage Jeremy to book ahead next time he travels with us, both to reserve a seat and to ensure he gets our lowest fares, and we look forward to welcoming him onboard again.”
“Our people deliver first-rate customer service day after day and we’d like to thank Jeremy Corbyn for highlighting this with the media. He’s also right to point out the need to introduce more trains on our route – that’s why we’re introducing a brand new fleet of 65 Azuma trains from 2018, which will increase seating capacity out of King’s Cross by 28% at peak times.
“We know that some of our services on our east and west coast franchises are extremely popular, and it can be hard to find a seat. This usually happens in particular circumstances, for example when there’s a big sporting event, or on the first off-peak train out of London. Unfortunately we can’t do anything about cup finals or fares regulation, which could spread demand much more effectively if it was less of a blunt instrument. We have discussed regulation with the Government at various points over the last two decades and we’d be delighted to work with Ministers if they were interested in reviewing the fares structure for long distance services, with the aim of reducing the overcrowding that can sometimes occur.
“We can, however, rely on our fantastic on-board teams to help customers whenever possible and we’re delighted they could help Jeremy in this case. We can also invest in our services - for example, we’ve converted a first class carriage to standard on our 21 nine carriage trains on west coast, providing an extra 5500 standard class seats each day.”
As part of his leadership campaign Corbyn has pledged to renationalise Britain’s railways, saying “we will bring our railways into public ownership and build democratic social control over our energy.”
Smith mocked his leadership rival over the stunt on Twitter:
Smith’s Labour allies also tweeted about the story:
But others defended Corbyn:
A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign said: “When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat.
“Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.
“Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”