|Franchise(s):||InterCity West Coast
9 March 1997 - 31 March 2017
|Main route(s):||London - Scotland
London - North West
London - West Midlands
|Other route(s):||London - North Wales|
|Fleet size:||56 Class 390 Pendolino sets
20 Class 221 Super Voyager sets
|Stations called at:||42|
|National Rail abbreviation:||VT|
|Parent company:||Virgin Rail Group
Virgin Group (51%)
Virgin Trains[not in citation given] is a train operating company in the United Kingdom owned by Virgin Group (51%) and Stagecoach (49%) that has operated the InterCity West Coast franchise since 9 March 1997. Virgin Trains operates long-distance passenger services on the West Coast Main Line from its Central London terminus at London Euston to the West Midlands, North West England, North Wales and Scotland. The service connects five of the UK's largest cities; London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow as well as Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, which have a combined metropolitan population of over 18 million people.
The Virgin Trains brand was also used on the legally and operationally separate Virgin CrossCountry franchise, which operated between 1997 and 2007.
Virgin Rail Group was awarded the InterCity West Coast franchise in January 1997 after beating Sea Containers and Stagecoach with operations commencing on 9 March 1997. In October 1998 Virgin Group sold 49% of the shares in Virgin Rail Group to Stagecoach.
When Virgin won the franchise, Railtrack was to upgrade the West Coast Main Line to allow tilting trains to operate at 140 mph by 2005. In the wake of the collapse of Railtrack and the inability of Network Rail to deliver on the 140 mph West Coast Main Line upgrade, both the Virgin CrossCountry and Virgin West Coast franchises were suspended in favour of management contracts in July 2002. Due to costs having blown out from £2.5 billion to £10 billion there were cutbacks to the upgrade and the top speed reduced to 125 mph.
In May 1998 Virgin introduced new services from London Euston to Shrewsbury and Blackpool North. The former ceased in 1999, the latter in May 2003. In December 2014, a daily weekday service between London Euston and Blackpool North and a twice daily service between London Euston and Shrewsbury were reintroduced.
In September 2005 Virgin introduced its first 125 mph timetable following the completion of Stage 1 of the upgrade.
In December 2007 as part of a reshuffle of rail franchises by the Department for Transport, services from Birmingham New Street to Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Central via Crewe were transferred from the CrossCountry franchise to the InterCity West Coast franchise.
From January 2009 Virgin Trains gradually rolled out a new Very High Frequency timetable to take advantage of the completed West Coast Main Line upgrade.
There were many timetable changes from 8 December 2013. These resulted in new timetables. Edinburgh/Glasgow services now run to/from London and call at Sandwell & Dudley replacing the hourly Wolverhampton to Euston service. In addition most Liverpool services will additionally call at Crewe. This has resulted in the latter being serviced by four Virgin trains in each direction per hour to/from London instead of the previous two.
On the 14 December 2014, two new daily services between London Euston and Shrewsbury were introduced and on 15 December 2014 a daily weekday service between London Euston and Blackpool North was introduced.
Moderation of competition
As a way of protecting the revenues of Virgin Trains to enable it to pay franchise premiums to the government to partly recoup the cost of the West Coast Main Line upgrade, the Office of Rail Regulation inserted a Moderation of Competition in Virgin's Track Access Agreement. Until its expiry in March 2012, this prevented any other train operating or open access companies operating services in competition that would abstract revenue.
Virgin Trains suffered poor punctuality compared with some other transport operators between 2001 and 2006, according to Office of Rail Regulation statistics. Punctuality did gradually improve until the introduction of a new timetable (in December 2008), following the upgrade of the West Coast Main Line, which resulted in a dip in performance. Performance subsequently recovered and peaked during 2010-2011, but then fell again and reached a new low for the year ending 31 March 2013 of 83.6% (MAA).
The PPM MAA (Public Performance Measure Moving Annual Average - % of trains arriving within 10 minutes of the scheduled times) figures for Virgin Trains are as follows:
- Financial year to 31 March 2002: 68.7%
- Financial year to 31 March 2003: 73.5%
- Financial year to 31 March 2004: 74.8%
- Financial year to 31 March 2005: 72.1%
- Financial year to 31 March 2006: 83.5%
- Financial year to 31 March 2007: 86.0%.
- Financial year to 31 March 2008: 86.2%.
- Financial year to 31 March 2009: 80.0%.
- Financial year to 31 March 2010: 84.6%.
- Financial year to 31 March 2011: 86.6%.
- Financial year to 31 March 2012: 85.9%.
- Financial year to 31 March 2013: 83.6%.
Latest figures published by Network Rail for the seventh period of 2013-2014 recorded PPM of 92.2% for the period and a MAA of 83.5% for the 12 months up to 12 October 2013. The PPM performance for the period is down 2.7 percentage points on the corresponding figure from the same period last year. Network Rail noted that Virgin Trains were only responsible for 16% of delays in period 5. Network Rail was itself directly responsible for 50% of Virgin Trains' delays, 20% were a result of external factors (e.g. fatalities) and the final 14% were due to other operators.
Chris Green as chief executive led a drive to improve reliability and punctuality after much press criticism in 2001, and by 2006, due to improved reliability of trains and completion of major infrastructure projects, performance was better. Virgin has undertaken a number of projects to increase punctuality, including radio-controlled watches.
On 23 February 2007 a Class 390 Pendolino forming the 17:15 London Euston to Glasgow Central service derailed in the village of Grayrigg in Cumbria. The train was carrying 109 people. Several carriages were left lying on the railway embankments. An elderly woman was fatally injured in the derailment. Five people were seriously injured. The accident was caused by a faulty set of points. The train itself however was widely praised for the way it retained its structural integrity. Richard Branson also praised the train driver because he attempted to stop the train and did not get out of the cab before it derailed.
Virgin inherited a fleet of Class 86, Class 87 and Class 90s hauling Mark 2 and Mark 3 carriages with Driving Van Trailers on its electrified services and High Speed Trains for London Euston to Holyhead services.
A franchise commitment was the replacement of these trains with new tilting stock. In 1999 Virgin signed a deal to lease forty-four eight-carriage and nine nine-carriage Class 390 Pendolinos built by Alstom. An option to extend all to nine carriages was enacted in 2002. The first entered service in January 2003. With the exception of services to Holyhead, the final locomotive hauled trains were withdrawn in June 2005.
To operate the Holyhead services four four-carriage Class 221 Super Voyagers were included in the order placed by Virgin CrossCountry. By the time they were delivered it was decided these would be too short so they entered service with Virgin CrossCountry. In September 2004 the High Speed Trains were withdrawn with services being operated by a combination of five-carriage Class 221 Super Voyagers hired from Virgin CrossCountry and Class 47 and Class 90 hauled Mark 3 sets. From September 2005 Class 57/3s hauling Class 390 Pendolinos took over the locomotive hauled diagrams. This continued until December 2008 when five-carriage Class 221 Super Voyagers took over all services.
To operate the Birmingham to Edinburgh and Glasgow services transferred from CrossCountry in December 2007, three four-carriage and thirteen five-carriage Class 221 Super Voyagers were transferred. A further five five-carriage Class 221 Super Voyagers followed in December 2008.
In August 2008 Bombardier started a programme to rearrange the Class 221 Super Voyagers with the carriage containing the shop moved to adjoin the first class carriage and refurbished with 2+2 seats arranged more spaciously around tables. This allowed it to be used as a first class carriage on Holyhead services and as a standard class carriage at other times.
In December 2010 one four-carriage Class 221 Super Voyager was disbanded with the two centre carriages being inserted into the other four-carriage sets to give Virgin a fleet of twenty five-carriage Class 221 Super Voyagers. The two end carriages are stored at Central Rivers depot.
To provide it with a fleet of locomotives for use on diversionary services during the West Coast Mainline upgrade and rescue duties, Virgin signed a deal with Porterbrook in March 2002 to rebuild twelve Class 47s as Class 57/3s with the first delivered in June 2002. After it was decided they would operate daily services along the North Wales Coast to Holyhead, another four were ordered from Porterbrook. Following the completion of the West Coast Main Line upgrade in 2008 their use fell and after being sublet to Arriva Trains Wales, Colas Rail and First GBRf, six were returned to Porterbrook in August 2011, three in April 2012 and the remaining seven in December 2012.
Virgin had long been angling for a franchise extension in return for ordering extra carriages for the Class 390 Pendolinos. The Department for Transport rejected this and instead placed an order itself with Alstom for 106 carriages allowing for four complete eleven-carriage sets and 31 sets to be extended by two carriages. There was an option to extend the remaining 21 sets but this was allowed to lapse. The four new sets were delivered in 2010/12 while 31 sets are currently receiving extra carriages with all to be complete by December 2012. This has required a number of stations to have platforms lengthened.
Following the loss of a Class 390 Pendolino in the Grayrigg derailment, a Mark 3 set with a Class 82 Driving Van Trailer was leased with a Class 90 hired from EWS as required. In 2008 Virgin looked at leasing two Class 180 but decided to retain the Mark 3 set. Nicknamed the Pretendolino, this received re-upholstered seating, power points, wi-fi and a full external re-paint at Wabtec, Doncaster in 2009. Virgin used this set with a Class 90 locomotive hired from Freightliner on a Euston to Crewe (via Birmingham) service on Fridays only until December 2012. From 9th December 2013 it was utilised to operate a London Euston -Birmingham New Street train on Thursdays and Fridays only, until it's withdrawl in October 2014 The Mk.III set was also occasionally hired out as a private charter train. It was used in the filming of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and can be seen at King's Cross station at the end of the film. It is currently in use as a 'hot spare' with Abellio Greater Anglia.
All seats on Class 221 Super Voyagers and Class 390 Pendolinos originally had an on-board audio entertainment system featuring a number of radio or pre-recorded music channels. This was disabled in March 2010 and replaced with on-board WiFi provided by EE. The service is available free in first class, and for a charge (which varies depending on how long the passenger wishes to use it for) in standard class.
|Class 221 Super Voyager||Diesel-electric multiple unit||125||200||20||2001–2002||221142–221144 originally four-car sets; 221144 was disbanded
December 2010, with centre cars inserted in 221142 & 221143
and driving cars stored at Central Rivers depot.
|Class 390 Pendolino||Electric multiple unit||125||200||56||2001–2004
|390033 stored and partially scrapped after Grayrigg derailment.
Pendolino (from Italian Pendolo) refers to tilting trains.
|Class 43||InterCity 125||125||200||1975-1982||2003||Went into store, now operated by First Great Western, CrossCountry, East Coast, East Midlands Trains and Grand Central. One set now used by Network Rail as the New Measurement Train.|
|Class 57/3||Diesel-electric locomotive||95||153||1998-2004||2012||Thunderbird locomotive, also previously used to haul Pendolinos on Holyhead services until all services to Holyhead started to be worked by Voyagers. Transferred to Network Rail, Direct Rail Services and West Coast Railway Company, now leased from DRS|
|Class 86||Electric Locomotive||100||161||1965-1966||2003||Replaced by Class 390, now exported to Floyd Zrt., Hungary|
|Class 87||Electric Locomotive||110||177||1973-1975||2005||Replaced by Class 390, although withdrawals slower than expected due to problems with the newer trains. Most exported to Bulgaria.|
|Class 90||Electric Locomotive||110||177||1987-1990||2005||Replaced by Class 390, transferred to one|
|Class 220||Diesel-electric multiple unit||125||200||2000-2002||2007||Transferred from Virgin CrossCountry to Arriva CrossCountry upon change of franchise.|
|Mark 2 Coach||Passenger Carriage||100||160||1964-1975||2003||Most preserved or scrapped|
|Mark 3 Carriage||Passenger Carriage||125||200||1975–1986||2005||Replaced by Class 390 and Class 221, loco-hauled carriages transferred to one. HST carriages now used by First Great Western, CrossCountry, East Coast, East Midlands Trains and Grand Central.|
|Driving Van Trailer||110||177||1988||2005||Replaced by Class 390, transferred to one.|
|Mark 3 Pretendolino||Passenger carriage||110||177||1975–1986||2014||Charter Train & Spare Train, was refurbished in 2009. Formed of 5 TSO, 1 RFM and 3 FO vehicles; and DVT 82126. Transferred to Abellio Greater Anglia.|
|Driving Van Trailer||110||177||1988||2014|
The Class 390 fleet is allocated to the Alstom Traincare Centre at Longsight with lighter maintenance and overnight servicing carried out at Wembley, Oxley, Edge Hill and Polmadie depots. The Class 221 fleet is allocated to Bombardier's Central Rivers depot with lighter maintenance and overnight servicing carried out at LNWR, Crewe and Holyhead.
Future franchising arrangements
Virgin Trains's franchise was due to expire in March 2012. In 2009 Richard Branson launched a campaign to have the next franchise period extended for 20 to 30 years, so that Virgin would be able to spend more on infrastructure and be able to see a return on investment. Branson said the journey time between London and Birmingham could be reduced by 22 minutes to under one hour. This was turned down by the Department for Transport. Virgin had applied for a two-year extension but this was ruled out by the Department of Transport on legal grounds.
In January 2011 the Department for Transport called for expressions of interest in bidding for the next InterCity West Coast franchise. In March 2011 the Department for Transport announced that Abellio, FirstGroup, Keolis/SNCF and Virgin Rail Group had been shortlisted to bid for the franchise. In May 2011 the Secretary of State announced the end date had been postponed to allow the recommendations in the McNulty Report to be absorbed. In October 2011 the Department for Transport announced that Virgin had been granted a franchise extension until December 2012.
In October 2012 the Secretary of State for Transport announced the government was cancelling the franchise competition for the InterCity West Coast franchise after discovering significant technical flaws in the way the franchise process was conducted, reversing the decision to award it to FirstGroup. Following an independent review of the franchising process, a fresh competition will be held. The government announced it would negotiate with Virgin Trains to run the InterCity West Coast franchise for a further 9 to 13 months. In December 2012 Virgin was awarded a 23-month management contract to run the franchise until 9 November 2014.
In March 2013 the Secretary of State for Transport announced the franchise would again be extended until 31 March 2017.
In July 2013 the Office of Rail Regulation rejected an application by Virgin Trains to operate new services to Shrewsbury and Blackpool North, citing capacity constraints on the West Coast Main Line. In November 2013 a revised application for services to Shrewsbury was approved with services to commence in December 2014.
Virgin Trains sponsors Carlisle United F.C. as their travel sponsor for the 2013–14 season, and for the 2014–15 season they are to be the club's main shirt sponsor in a further two year deal. Virgin Trains has also sponsored events such as Manchester International Festival in 2013.
- List of companies operating trains in the United Kingdom
- National Rail
- Rail franchising in Great Britain
- Rail transport in Great Britain
- Companies House extract company no 3007940 West Coast Trains Limited
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- Media related to Virgin West Coast at Wikimedia Commons
- Media related to Virgin Trains at Wikimedia Commons
- Official website
- Virgin Trains Seating Plans
- Virgin Rail Group
As part of British Rail
|Operator of InterCity West Coast franchise
1997 — 2017
First Transpennine Express
|Train Operator of the Year