|Franchise(s):||InterCity West Coast
9 March 1997 — April 2017
|Main route(s):||London - Scotland
London - West Midlands
London - North West
|Other route(s):||London - North Wales
West Midlands - Scotland
|Fleet size:||56 Class 390 Pendolino sets
20 Class 221 Super Voyager sets
9 Mark 3 carriages
1 Driving Van Trailer
|Stations called at:||42|
|National Rail abbreviation:||VT|
|Parent company:||Virgin Group (51%)
Virgin Trains 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 operate long-distance passenger services on the West Coast Main Line between Greater London, the West Midlands, North West England, North Wales and Scotland. The service connects the major cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow which have a combined metropolitan population of over 18 million people.
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 September 2004 a London Euston to Llandudno service was introduced ceasing in December 2008.
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 and this is the basis of the current timetable on these routes:
London - Birmingham - Wolverhampton
|Route||Calling at||Main stock|
|A||London Euston to Birmingham New Street and Wolverhampton||London Euston, Watford Junction, Milton Keynes Central, Rugby, Coventry, Birmingham International and Birmingham New Street, with some services extending to Sandwell and Dudley and Wolverhampton||Pendolino|
London - Manchester
|Route||Calling at||Main stock|
|B||London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly||London Euston and Milton Keynes Central, branching off via Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield or Crewe and Wilmslow, and continuing to Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly, with one weekday service operating via Birmingham New Street.||Pendolino|
London - Stafford - Liverpool
|Route||Calling at||Main stock|
|C||London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street||London Euston, Stafford, Runcorn and Liverpool Lime Street||Pendolino|
London / West Midlands to Chester / North Wales
|Route||Calling at||Main stock|
|D||London Euston to Chester, Holyhead and Wrexham General||London Euston, Milton Keynes Central, Crewe and Chester, with one service extending to Wrexham General and others via Flint, Prestatyn, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno Junction to Bangor (Gwynedd) or Holyhead, with one weekday service between Birmingham New Street and North West Wales.||Super Voyager|
London - The North West - Glasgow
|Route||Calling at||Main stock|
|E||London Euston to Glasgow Central||London Euston, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme Lake District, Penrith, Carlisle and Glasgow Central||Pendolino|
Birmingham - The North West - Scotland
|Route||Calling at||Main stock|
|F||Birmingham New Street to Glasgow Central or Edinburgh Waverley||Birmingham New Street, Wolverhampton, Crewe, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme Lake District, Penrith, Carlisle, continuing to Glasgow Central or Haymarket and Edinburgh Waverley||Super Voyager|
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%.
Figures published by Network Rail for the second period of 2013-2014 recorded PPM of 85.7% for the period and a MAA of 83.7% for the year up to 25 May 2013. The PPM performance for the period is up 2.8 percentage points on the corresponding figure from the same period last year.
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 near Oxenholme. The train was carrying 109 people. Several carriages were left lying on the railway embankments. An elderly woman was fatally injured in the derailment and died in hospital. 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.
Virgin inherited a fleet of Class 86, Class 87 and Class 90s hauling Mark 2 and Mark 3 carriages with Class 82 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 2011/12 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) Friday relief service until December 2012, and also hires the train out as a charter train. It sometimes is used on London - Birmingham services in the event of a Pendolino shortage. 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.
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 in standard class.
|Class||Image||Type||Top speed||Number||Routes operated||Built||Notes|
|Class 221 Super Voyager||Diesel-electric multiple unit||125||200||20||London - Chester/Holyhead
Birmingham - Glasgow/Edinburgh
|2001–2002||221142–221144 originally four-car sets; 221144 was disbanded to make 221142 & 221143 five-car sets and its driving cars stored at Central Rivers depot.|
|Class 390 Pendolino||Electric multiple unit||125||200||56||London - Birmingham/Wolverhampton
London - Manchester
London - Liverpool
London - Glasgow
|390033 stored and partially scrapped after Grayrigg derailment.
Pendolino (from Italian Pendolo) refers to tilting trains.
|Mark 3 Carriage||Passenger carriage||110||177||9||Charter Train
|1975–1986 (refurbished 2009)||Part of Pretendolino set
5 TSO, 1 RFM and 3 FO vehicles
|Driving Van Trailer||110||177||1||Charter Train
|1988 (refurbished 2009)||Part of Pretendolino set
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.
- National Rail
- Rail franchising in Great Britain
- List of companies operating trains in the United Kingdom
- Rail transport in Great Britain
- Companies House extract company no 3007940 West Coast Trains Limited
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- Virgin Trains Timetable B
- Virgin Trains Timetable C
- Virgin Trains Timetable D
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- Virgin Trains Timetable F
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- "Railway plan puts new focus on passengers" Secretary of State for Transport statement 26 March 2013
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As part of British Rail
|Operator of InterCity West Coast franchise
1997 — 2017
First Transpennine Express
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