6 January 1997 – 10 November 2007
|Main route(s)||Southern England/London Paddington and South West England/South East Wales – Midlands – Northern England and Scotland|
|Fleet size||34 Voyager and 44 Super Voyager sets|
|Parent company||Virgin Group (51%)|
Virgin CrossCountry was a train operating company in the United Kingdom operating the InterCity CrossCountry passenger franchise from January 1997 until November 2007. Virgin CrossCountry operated some of the longest direct rail services in the United Kingdom but most avoided Greater London after 2003. All services called or terminated at Birmingham New Street.
Virgin Rail Group was awarded the InterCity CrossCountry franchise in November 1996, with operations commencing on 5 January 1997. Services were operated by a wholly owned subsidiary, CrossCountry Trains Limited.
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.
In September 2006 the Department for Transport announced the shortlist for the New CrossCountry franchise with Virgin Rail Group included. On 10 July 2007 the Department for Transport awarded the new CrossCountry franchise to Arriva with the services operated by Virgin CrossCountry transferring to CrossCountry on 11 November 2007.
In May 1998 Virgin introduced new services from Portsmouth Harbour to Liverpool Lime Street and Blackpool North. The Summer Saturday service to Ramsgate ran for the last time in September 1999. The Summer Saturday services to Weymouth ran for the last time in September 2002.
In September 2002 Virgin Trains launched Operation Princess. This involved introducing a new clockface timetable with shorter trains running more frequently. However the new fleet suffered from a number of technical faults which coupled with infrastructure and capacity issues led to many problems. Between September 2002 and January 2003 punctuality fell to 54.1%, it was therefore agreed with the Strategic Rail Authority that certain services would be cut to improve reliability and robustness on the core network.
When Operation Princess was launched in September 2002, Virgin CrossCountry served these destinations:
|VT0||Birmingham New Street to Swindon via Cheltenham||Withdrawn summer 2003|
|VT1||Glasgow Central, Edinburgh Waverley & Blackpool North through Birmingham New Street to South West of England||Blackpool North withdrawn summer 2003|
|VT2||Aberdeen, Edinburgh Waverley & Newcastle through Manchester Piccadilly and Birmingham New Street to Poole||Services west of Bournemouth withdrawn summer 2003|
|VT3||Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester Airport, through Birmingham New Street to London Paddington, Portsmouth and Brighton||Portsmouth and London Paddington withdrawn summer 2003, reduced frequency to Brighton, all Liverpool Lime Street withdrawn winter 2003|
|VT4||Aberdeen and Edinburgh Waverley through Birmingham New Street to Cardiff, Swansea, Paignton and Penzance||Services west of Cardiff withdrawn summer 2003|
Project Omega was a project which would have seen a series of improvements following the West Coast modernisation. This included Virgin CrossCountry running services from London Kings Cross to Teesside via Nottingham and York and another service from Portsmouth Harbour to Nottingham via Feltham for Heathrow. These services would have been run by the Class 220. The project also involved extending Virgin's West Coast and CrossCountry franchises by 5 years (both originally planned to end in 2012, so would have been 2017) as well as adding a fifth car to 38 Voyagers.
By the time Virgin Trains lost the CrossCountry franchise bid to Arriva in 2007 the network consisted of only the following routes:
|VT1||South West of England through Birmingham to the North West and Scotland|
|VT2||South Coast through Birmingham to the North of England and Scotland|
|VT3||South West of England and South East Wales through Birmingham to the North East of England and Scotland|
Virgin CrossCountry inherited a fleet of Class 47 and Class 86 locomotives, Mark 2 Carriages, High Speed Trains and Class 158 Express Sprinter diesel multiple units from British Rail. Class 47s on hire from English Welsh & Scottish and Fragonset were also fairly common.
A franchise commitment was the replacement of these trains with new stock. In December 1998 Virgin signed a deal to lease 78 Voyager diesel–electric multiple units built by Bombardier Transportation, consisting of 34 four-carriage Class 220 Voyagers and 40 five-carriage and four four-carriage Class 221 Super Voyagers. The Super Voyagers were built with tilting mechanisms to enable higher speeds on curved tracks, including on the West Coast Main Line and between Oxford and Banbury. The four-carriage Super Voyagers were intended for use by Virgin West Coast on services from London Euston to Holyhead, although they ended up being pooled with the other Voyagers. When Virgin West Coast started using Super Voyagers on Holyhead services in September 2004, the five-carriage units were used.
The first Class 220 Voyager arrived from Belgium in January 2001 and entered service on 21 May 2001. The last Class 47s, Class 86s and Mark 2 carriages were withdrawn in August 2002, while the Express Sprinters were transferred to Wessex Trains and First TransPennine Express.
After experiencing rapid growth Virgin CrossCountry decided to retain some High Speed Train sets. In December 2001 it announced plans to refurbish eight HSTs as Virgin Challengers for use on proposed services from London Paddington to Manchester Piccadilly via Cheltenham, with the option to refurbish more. In the wake of the collapse of Operation Princess, the project was cancelled with the remaining HSTs withdrawn in September 2003 on the instruction of the Strategic Rail Authority.
To provide extra stock for services on summer Saturday services to Paignton and Newquay, Virgin CrossCountry hired HSTs from Virgin West Coast, Midland Mainline and Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), and Mark 3B loco-hauled carriages from Virgin West Coast. In 2004 Virgin hired Class 67 locomotives from EWS and Mark 2 carriages from Riviera Trains to operate summer Saturday services to Paignton.
A standby set of Mark 2 carriages was leased from Riviera Trains from September 2004. This set was usually used with an EWS Class 90 locomotive between Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly, although it did run to Newcastle with a Class 57/3 in January 2007.
|Class 43||Diesel locomotive||1976–1982||2003||Operated with Mark 3 carriages.|
|Class 47||Diesel locomotive||1962–1968||2002||Operated with Mark 2 carriages. Some of these were rebuilt as Class 57/3 locomotives.|
|Class 86||Electric locomotive||1965–1966||2002||Operated with Mark 2 carriages.|
|Class 158 Express Sprinter||DMU||1989–1992||2003|
|Mark 2 carriage||Passenger carriage||1964–1975||2002||Operated with Class 47 and 86 locomotives.|
|Mark 3 carriage||Passenger carriage||1975–1982||2003||Operated with Class 43 locomotives.|
|Class 220 Voyager||DEMU||125||200||2000–2001||34|
|Class 221 Super Voyager||DEMU||125||200||2001–2002||44|
Planned fleet (never built)
|Class 255 Virgin Challenger||DMU||2002 (planned refurbishment)||14 (planned)||Planned refurbishment of the High Speed Train to be used on services between Blackpool, Manchester and Birmingham, and Paddington to Birmingham via Swindon. These plans came to naught as the Strategic Rail Authority planned to transfer most of the stock to Midland Mainline for their London-Manchester 'Rio' services.|
- Companies House extract company no 3007937 Archived 17 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine CrossCountry Trains Limited
- Companies House extract company no 3007940 Archived 14 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine West Coast Trains Limited
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- "CROSSCOUNTRY TRAINS LIMITED". Companies House. Archived from the original on 14 April 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
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- Rail Magazine Issue 494 18 August 2004 p. 6
- The Railway Magazine Issue 1242 October 2004 p. 4
- New Cross Country Franchise Specification Issued Archived 4 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine Virgin Trains Press Release 31 October 2006
- Department for Transport announces winner of New Cross Country franchise Department for Transport Press Release 10 July 2007
- 1999 – 2000 Back over the S&C Archived 7 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine 1s76.com
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- Virgin forced to replace new trains with old Archived 20 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine The Telegraph 1 December 2002
- Page 8 Virgin CrossCountry Fact File
- Informed Sources January 2003 Archived 21 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine Alycidon
- VT3 timetable 2003
- VT2 timetable 2005
- RAIL issue 840 p.92
- From Dream to Reality Archived 16 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine The Locomotive & Carriage Institution 5 November 2002
- Rail Magazine Issue 447 30 October 2002 Page 11
- Rail Magazine Issue 425 26 December 2001 p. 36
- Rail Magazine Issue 425 26 December 2001 Page 10
- "Select Committee on Transport Fourth Report". UK Parliament. Archived from the original on 5 September 2017. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
- Privatisation 1993–2005 Archived 30 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine 125 Group
- The High Speed Train Archived 30 July 2017 at the Wayback Machine Taunton Trains
- History Archived 29 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine Riviera Trains
- Rail Magazine Issue 496 15 September 2004 p. 7
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Media related to Virgin CrossCountry at Wikimedia Commons