Virgin Trains

Virgin Trains Logo

Virgin Trains is a train operating company in the United Kingdom. It is generally considered part of the Virgin Group, although the shareholding is actually split 51:49 between Virgin Group and Stagecoach Group.

The company was formed to take advantage of the privatisation of British Rail in the mid 1990s. Virgin Trains were successful in the bids for 2 franchises, the first being to run express train services on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). This part of the company is called Virgin West Coast (VWC) and provides services to London Euston to the West Midlands, the North West and Scotland. The other franchise Virgin Trains obtained is called Virgin Cross-Country (VXC - see also Cross Country Route) and runs long distance services which by-pass London and link the south and south-west of England with the north of England and Scotland via Birmingham. The company operates its two franchises under one brand (unlike most other franchisors) and sometimes shares trains between them.


Mixed fortunes

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Class 87 electric locomotive and Mk.3 coaches.

On privatisation, Virgin West Coast inherited a mixture of Mk.2 and Mk.3 coaches, with electric locomotives of Classes 86, 87 and 90. Virgin Cross-Country also inherited several High Speed Trains, and Mk.2 coaches which were hauled by Class 47 diesel locomotives and Class 86 locomotives on electrified routes.

Virgin Trains have had a poor reputation for punctuality compared with many other transport operators. This perception seems to be a mixture of truth and media exaggeration.Although during the year ending 31 December 2002, only 73.6% of West Coast trains and 62.5% of Cross-Country trains arrived within 10 minutes of the scheduled arrival time (source SRA National Rail Trends), these timings are now (February 2005) looking decidedly better: West Coast Trains are now up to 76% and Cross Country trains up to 84%. The original figures compared unfavourably with historic InterCity train punctuality, but were not greatly worse than other contemporary long-distance UK rail operators. The problems had been widely attributed to the ageing and increasingly unreliable rolling stock and the equally ageing and outdated infrastructure on which it runs, but the introduction of the Pendolino stock on the West Coast Main Line and more modern diesel-electric trains of the Cross Country route are now helping the improvements.

The future

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A new Class 220 Voyager stands at York station.
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The remedy to these problems has been a slow, painful and expensive one. Virgin, in 1997 placed the largest rolling stock order (1bn) in British history with new Class 390 Pendolino tilting trains for the West Coast Main Line network. These state-of-the-art units are similar to British Rail's unsuccessful APT tilting train of the early 1980s, but with none of the various design gremlins. The Pendolino trains have a top speed of 225 km/h (140 mph), but will be limited to 200 km/h (125 mph) on the West Coast Main Line. The cross-country routes have been served by new diesel-electric four-carriage Class 220 Voyager and five-carriage Class 221 Super Voyager trains. The Super Voyager trains have tilting ability like the Pendolino and will be used for services operation on the West Coast Main Line.

This meant that by December 2004, Virgin Trains had replaced all of the rolling stock inherited from British Rail with brand-new state-of-the-art trains.

The West Coast Main Line itself has been the subject of a massive 10bn refurbishment programme to accept the new trains, one that has been the subject of massive controversy, since it is now running three years late, and has cost twice the original estimate. (see West Coast Main Line page for full details).

Given Richard Branson's popularity with the British public and the success of his other business ventures, the perceived failure of Virgin Trains is unusual.

In 2003, Virgin Trains introduced some set-down only or pick-up only stops into its passenger timetable, although this is not a new innovation having previously been used by British Rail. The company stated that these are enforceable by means of fines; for example, a passenger leaving the train at a pick-up only stop is deemed not to have a valid ticket, and could be charged accordingly.

See also

External link

nl:Virgin Trains


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