Profile: Platform builder - Craig Inglis, Sales and marketing director, Virgin Trains

For someone who works at London's Euston station and should probably live and breathe trains 24 hours a day, it is surprising that Craig Inglis, the sales and marketing director of Virgin Trains, openly admits he knows nothing about how trains work.

Although this may seem strange, it demonstrates how far the rail industry has come in a short space of time. Shaking off the past, when the UK railways were run by stalwarts of the British Rail era, consumer marketers are now in the driving seat of the industry's growth.

Inglis may not know how train engines work, but he is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He spent almost a whole night last year washing a train in preparation for a TV ad because it had not been cleaned as requested.

To coincide with the release of the latest national rail timetable last weekend, and completion of the roll-out of Virgin Trains' new rolling stock, the operator has just embarked on its biggest-ever marketing investment - an £8m ad campaign to 'herald the return of the train'.

The activity, which began on Sunday, marks the end of months of cautious planning for Inglis, who is adamant this will not prove another false dawn for Virgin Trains and the rail industry.

When Virgin Trains took over its two franchises in 1997, Sir Richard Branson said his plan was 'to grass over the M6' by getting the public to use the railways for business and leisure travel. Inglis admits this was a bold statement, but claims the company's mandate to change the face of rail travel remains, citing the completion of phasing out all its ancient rolling stock as just one example.

Inglis arrived at Virgin Trains soon after it had secured its franchises. His early days were the stuff of nightmares and he admits that he nearly walked out several times in his first year. 'We had unrealistic expectations about how we could apply the Virgin model to the rail industry, but we have come through it and are starting to challenge the public's perceptions,' he says.

Having worked at Thomson Holidays for several years, Inglis was keen to find a new challenge and joined the nascent Virgin Trains team as a product manager. 'The day I was offered the job, I was also offered one by Boots. It was better pay and prospects, but there was such massive potential for change that I had to come here.'

The journey to becoming Virgin Trains' top marketer has not been smooth, not least because the rail industry has suffered the worst decade in its history, hit by disasters, strikes and engineering works on a massive scale.

The lowest point for Virgin Trains came after the Hatfield rail crash in 2000. Investigators discovered faulty tracks were to blame, and the government ordered that every mile of UK track be checked. 'Our product was being undermined on a daily basis, the timetables were changing overnight and journey times were being doubled,' says Inglis.

Virgin Trains decided on radical action and launched what Inglis claims was the world's biggest rail offer. In a £20m gamble, it halved its fares and held its breath. 'We had to fight back,' he says. 'It was a huge success and we doubled passenger numbers. Most importantly, it rebuilt consumer confidence.'

This is typical of Inglis, who is not one to shirk a challenge, according to James Murphy, chief executive of Virgin Trains' ad agency, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. 'He is a mixture of the irascible and inspirational, but when he buys into an idea, he gets behind it and makes sure it becomes reality,' he says.

Having upgraded Virgin's fleet at a cost of more than £2bn, and with punctuality levels back up above 80%, Inglis insists this is just the start. 'We have done things people would not have believed, such as having shops and radio stations on trains. But we are not resting on our laurels when it comes to new product development.' Virgin Trains is looking to make its ticket pricing more flexible, for example, using an airline-style model.

Inglis shows little sign of enjoying the spoils of investment just yet, however, pointing out that his task remains to entice more people onto Virgin Trains.

CAREER HISTORY

1993-1996: Various marketing roles at Thomson Holidays, rising to product manager, Portland Direct

1996-1997: Year out, travelling

1997-2004: Various product and marketing roles, rising to marketing director, Virgin Trains

2004-present: Sales and marketing director, Virgin Trains.

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