Virgin Trains East Coast

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Virgin Trains East Coast
91102 and 43315 (34679405872).jpg
Virgin Trains East Coast InterCity 225 and HST at London King's Cross
Franchise(s)InterCity East Coast
1 March 2015 – 23 June 2018
Main route(s)LondonAberdeen
Other route(s)LeedsAberdeen
Fleet size31 InterCity 225 sets
14 InterCity 125 sets
Stations called at53
Stations operated12
Parent companyStagecoach Group (90%)
Virgin Group (10%)
Reporting markGR
PredecessorEast Coast
SuccessorLondon North Eastern Railway
Route map
Route map

Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) (legal name East Coast Main Line Company Limited[1]) was a train operating company in the United Kingdom that operated the InterCity East Coast franchise on the East Coast Main Line between London, Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland. It commenced operations on 1 March 2015, taking over from East Coast as a joint venture between Stagecoach (90%) and Virgin Group (10%).

It was originally intended to run until 2023 and return £3.3 billion to the government in the form of franchise premiums, but, due to the line performing below VTEC's expectations, it was announced in May 2018 that the contract would be terminated early by the government; VTEC ceased operating on 23 June 2018, when operations passed to the government-owned operator, London North Eastern Railway.

While the operation itself was profitable, VTEC placed part of the blame for the under-performance with respect to their franchise bid on their belief that the government had failed to deliver expected upgrades or new trains, while the government claimed VTEC had simply overbid. Given it was the third instance of the East Coast franchise needing to be terminated early for financial reasons, it was announced the next permanent arrangement, to begin in 2020, would feature closer co-operation between the private sector and Network Rail, the state-owned operator of the infrastructure.


In January 2014, FirstGroup, Keolis/Eurostar and Stagecoach/Virgin were announced by the Department for Transport (DfT) as the shortlisted bidders for the new InterCity East Coast franchise.[2][3] In November 2014, the eight-year franchise was awarded to the Stagecoach/Virgin joint venture and commenced operating on 1 March 2015 trading as Virgin Trains East Coast.[4][5][6][7]

Industrial action[edit]

Due to concerns over the planned introduction of driver-only operation by VTEC, in addition to nearly 200 planned compulsory redundancies and staff pay concerns, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) announced that three 24-hour strikes would be held by all workers (except depot maintenance workers) at VTEC in August 2016;[8][9][10] however, following negotiations between VTEC and the RMT, these were all eventually cancelled.[11][12][13]

A further breakdown in negotiations between the RMT and VTEC resulted in the union calling for further industrial action, which took place for 24 hours on 3 October 2016.[14][15] Further strikes were subsequently called, for 48 hours on 28–29 April 2017; however, this was again cancelled before it could take place following "progress" in talks between the union and the operator.[16][17][18]


Typical off-peak Monday-Friday service pattern (including other inter-city services)

Virgin Trains East Coast took over all of the services operated by East Coast. It categorised its weekday services from London King's Cross into four routes:[19]

Route Off-peak
Calling at (off-peak) Peak-time extensions
A London King's Cross to Leeds (and West Yorkshire) 2tph 1tph: Peterborough, Doncaster, Wakefield Westgate
1tph: Stevenage, Grantham, Doncaster, Wakefield Westgate
1tpd to Skipton via Keighley
1tpd to Bradford Forster Square via Shipley
1tpd to Harrogate via Horsforth
B London King's Cross to Edinburgh (express) 1tph York, Darlington, Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed 1tpd to Inverness
1tpd to Stirling
4tpd to Aberdeen (3 from London King's Cross, 1 from Leeds)
C London King's Cross to Edinburgh (semi-fast) 1tph Peterborough, Newark North Gate, Doncaster, York, Northallerton (1tp2h), Darlington, Durham, Newcastle, Alnmouth (1tp2h)
(Northallerton and Alnmouth are usually served by alternate trains)
1tpd to Glasgow Central
1tpd to Sunderland
D London King's Cross to Newark North Gate (and York) 1tph Stevenage, Peterborough, Grantham;
1tp2h extended to York calling at Retford and Doncaster
1tpd to Lincoln
1tpd to Hull

Named trains[edit]

Virgin Trains East Coast operated a number of named passenger trains, including:

Name Origin Destination Other details
Flying Scotsman London King's Cross Edinburgh Waverley Service began 1862 in both directions; named by the LNER in 1924, today only operates in southbound direction
Highland Chieftain London King's Cross Inverness the longest VTEC route
Northern Lights London King's Cross Aberdeen

Service changes[edit]

Virgin Trains East Coast introduced once per day services to Stirling and Sunderland via Newcastle on 14 December 2015, along with one extra service each weekday evening between Hull and Doncaster via Selby.[20] In May 2016, a number of weekday services to Newcastle were extended to Edinburgh meaning there is almost a complete half hourly service between the two cities. From December 2016, Morpeth benefited from additional stops provided by the operator to improve connections to Edinburgh and London.

Following the December 2017 timetable change, VTEC introduced 24 new Saturday services, increasing the number of Saturday services to 151, only six fewer than weekdays. A weekday service from York at 4:40 am arriving in London for 7 am was also introduced.[21]

Rolling stock[edit]

Virgin Trains East Coast inherited a fleet of InterCity 125 and InterCity 225s from East Coast. Most driving vehicles received a Virgin logo within the first three days of the franchise, and all train sets received a full Virgin Trains East Coast livery by November 2015. Attention then turned to the interiors, with toilets to be refreshed and seat covers and carpets replaced.[22] The first refurbished set entered service on 31 December 2015, and by August 2016 all of the HST sets had been refurbished followed by the 225's completed refurbished fleet in January 2017.

In July 2015, an additional InterCity 125 set was transferred from East Midlands Trains.[23]

In September 2016, Virgin Trains East Coast hired three Class 90s from DB Cargo for use on services to Newark, York and Leeds.

Fleet at end of franchise[edit]

 Trainset   Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Number   Notes
 mph   km/h 
InterCity 125 Class 43 43 316 at Kings Cross by Hugh Llewelyn.jpg Diesel locomotive 125 200 32
Mark 3 carriage IC125@40 - TS 42210 at York.JPG Passenger carriage 117
InterCity 225 Class 90 Class 90 at Wakefield Westgate.jpg Electric locomotive 110 177 3 A short term hire-in to cover for a shortfall in Class 91s.
Class 91 Loco 91105 at King's Cross.JPG Electric locomotive 140 225 31
Mark 4 carriage Rake of VTEC Mark 4 London Kings Cross 1.jpg Passenger carriage 302
Driving Van Trailer VTEC Intercity 225 set at King's Cross 2.jpg Driving Van Trailer 31


Virgin Trains East Coast had four main depots:



The public performance measure (PPM) shows the percentage of trains which arrive at their terminating station on time. It combines figures for punctuality and reliability into a single performance measure. The most recent figure (in the four weeks from 13 December 2015 – 9 January 2016) for Virgin Trains East Coast's PPM was 82.0%. The moving annual average PPM was 86.9%.[24]

Passenger numbers[edit]

East Coast passenger numbers in the previous year from 2011 to 2017.[25][26]


During the tender process, Virgin Trains East Coast promised to pay higher premiums to the government than its predecessor East Coast did, but failed comprehensively, immediately reducing premium payments and eventually giving up its £3.3 billion franchise.[27]

In the first full year of operation, the company repaid only £204 million of the premium, shortly before defaulting on the franchise.[28] This compares unfavorably to the £235 million paid over the previous year by the publicly operated East Coast franchise [29]

Incident with Jeremy Corbyn[edit]

According to VTEC: "CCTV footage shows Mr Corbyn returning to Coach H and sitting down at 11.43am, shortly after being filmed while sitting on the floor and more than 2hrs before his final destination, Newcastle."[30]

In August 2016, a video was released of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in which he said he was forced to sit on the floor on a VTEC train to Newcastle because the train was "ram-packed". At the time, Corbyn said "Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It's their money I would be spending after all.”[31] However, Virgin Trains later released edited CCTV footage which they claimed showed Corbyn walking past empty seats in Coach H, filming the video and then walking back to Coach H to sit for the rest of the journey.[32][33] Corbyn said about the incident "Yes, I did walk through the train. Yes, I did look for two empty seats together so I could sit down with my wife, to talk to her. That wasn't possible so I went to the end of the train."[34] Analysis by a media outlet supporting the re-election bid of Jeremy Corbyn in the then-Labour leadership contest of the CCTV footage later claimed to show that the unreserved seats in some of the images were occupied and that other passengers also sat in the vestibules.[35][36] [37][38]

Financial problems[edit]

On 28 June 2017, Stagecoach announced passenger revenues on the East Coast line were below expectations, meaning the company had registered a loss of around £200m to date, due to the profits that were being registered being lower than the payments due to the government for the right to operate the franchise. As a result, Stagecoach were attempting to renegotiate the terms, a process that was being delayed by the intervening general election. They made a loss when trades were down 11% due to loss on the East Coast service. The RMT called for renationalisation of the franchise, although Stagecoach was confident it could make a profit within two years.[39]

In November 2017, the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced that the franchise would be terminated three years early in 2020, and in its place would be the East Coast Partnership (ECP), first of a new type of franchising arrangement, a long term regional public-private partnership where the private entity takes more control over the Network Rail infrastructure, under a unified brand. Stagecoach claimed that the failure of Network Rail to implement expected infrastructure improvements, and delays to the government-controlled purchase of the fleet of Azuma trains, were partly responsible for the expected growth in passenger revenue failing to materialise. Grayling however claimed that Stagecoach had simply made a mistake in their bid calculations, while admitting that the tender process encouraged over-bidding. Critics of the early termination described it as yet another government bailout of a private company in the failed privatised railway system, although this was only based on the fact the government would lose the more than £2 billion in future franchise payments due to the government over the last four years of its contract. Analysts claimed that since both parties shared blame for the losses, an early termination was mutually desirable. Both Stagecoach and the Secretary of State anticipated all contractual payments due would be fulfilled up to the termination date, and since the Secretary had been advised there had been no malpractice or malicious intent on their part, Stagecoach and Virgin would be free to bid for future franchises, including the ECP.[40][41][42]


In February 2018, with the situation now seen as more urgent, the date for the end of VTEC's contract was brought forwards to "a small number of months", with the Secretary considering replacing it with either a short term not for profit arrangement with VTEC, or renationalisation under an operator of last resort, until the ECP could begin in 2020.[43] On 16 May 2018 it was announced that the London North Eastern Railway, a temporary government controlled operator of last resort, would take over the operation of the line from 24 June 2018, thus ending VTEC's contract.[44][45]



  1. ^ "East Coast Main Line Company Limited". Companies House. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  2. ^ East Coast rail shortlist revealed BBC News 17 January 2014
  3. ^ InterCity East Coast franchise shortlist announced Railway Gazette International 17 January 2014
  4. ^ Stagecoach and Virgin win East Coast mainline rail franchise BBC News 27 November 2014
  5. ^ More seats, more services and new trains for East Coast passengers Department for Transport 27 November 2014
  6. ^ 3.3bn premium wins East Coast franchise for Stagecoach and Virgin Railway Gazette International 27 November 2014
  7. ^ Virgin bid wins East Coast franchise The Railway Magazine 27 November 2014
  8. ^ Topham, Gwyn (12 August 2016). "Virgin Trains East Coast staff to strike in row over jobs". the Guardian.
  9. ^ "Virgin East Coast strike dates revealed". 12 August 2016 – via
  11. ^ "Virgin East Coast strikes suspended". 16 August 2016 – via
  12. ^ "Virgin Trains East Coast workers suspend strike action".
  13. ^ "Intercity East Coast RMT Suspends All Industrial Action - rmt".
  14. ^ "Virgin East Coast staff call strike day". 26 September 2016 – via
  15. ^ "RMT Confirms Strike Action on Virgin East Coast - rmt".
  16. ^ "Virgin train strike halted after talks". 24 April 2017 – via
  17. ^ "Virgin Trains East Coast strike is suspended".
  18. ^ "RMT Suspends Strike Action on Virgin East Coast - rmt".
  19. ^ Route Map Virgin Trains East Coast
  20. ^ "Triple Swoop for Virgin Trains". Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 19 December 2015.
  21. ^ Ltd, Insider Media. "Seat boost to Virgin's east coast mainline service".
  22. ^ Planned Improvements Virgin Trains East Coast
  23. ^ "Mk3s transferred to VTEC" Rail issue 779 22 July 2015 page 29
  24. ^ "Network Rail Performance figures (updated every four weeks)".
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ "repainted and rebranded Virgin Trains East Coast service leaves London".
  28. ^ Topham. "East Coast rail 'bailout' could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions".
  29. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  30. ^ "Media Room & Brand News - Virgin Trains".
  31. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn sits on floor of overcrowded train – video".
  32. ^ "Revealed: Jeremy Corbyn had a seat during train journey he suggested was so 'ram-packed' he had to sit on floor".
  33. ^ "Virgin Trains clarifies Labour Leader's claim of "ram-packed" service".
  34. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn angered by train seat row questions".
  35. ^ "The Guardian admits its 'traingate' story about Jeremy Corbyn was mostly wrong". Business Insider. 7 October 2016 – via
  36. ^ "Guardian misled readers after treating 'gonzo news release' about Corbyn on train as journalism". Press Gazette. 16 October 2016 – via
  37. ^ "New CCTV of 'traingate' published". Double Down News. 24 August 2017 – via
  38. ^ "Did the mainstream media smear Jeremy Corbyn over Traingate?".
  39. ^ Wilson, Bill (28 June 2017). "East Coast rail line woes hit Stagecoach". BBC News. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  40. ^ "The inside track on East Coast mainline". BBC News. 12 February 2018. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  41. ^ Topham, Gwyn (29 November 2017). "East Coast rail 'bailout' could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  42. ^ Elder, Bryce (29 November 2017). "Stagecoach soars after government intervenes on contract". Financial Times. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  43. ^ "East Coast train line to be put into public control". BBC News. 12 February 2018. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  44. ^ Pickard, Jim; Spero, Josh (16 May 2018). "UK East Coast rail line to be renationalised". Financial Times. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  45. ^ East Coast train line to be put into public control BBC News 16 May 2018

External links[edit]

Preceded by
East Coast
Operator of InterCity East Coast franchise
Succeeded by
London North Eastern Railway