Virgin Trains - A

Virgin Trains - A
Virgin Trains (legal name West Coast Trains Limited) was a train operating company in the United Kingdom owned by Virgin Rail Group, a joint venture between Virgin Group and Stagecoach, which operated the InterCity West Coast franchise from 9 March 1997 to 7 December 2019.
The franchise covered long-distance passenger services on the West Coast Main Line between London, the West Midlands, North West England, North Wales and Scotland, consequently connecting six of the UK's largest cities: London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh, which have a combined metropolitan population of over 18 million. Virgin Trains had around 3,400 employees in 2015.
The Virgin Trains brand was also used on the legally and operationally separate Virgin Trains East Coast from 2015 until 2018, and previously on Virgin CrossCountry, which operated between 1997 and 2007, as well as from 2018 to 2020 by Virgin Trains USA in Florida.
The contract expired on 7 December 2019 (having been originally scheduled for expiry in March 2020) and Virgin did not contest losing the franchise after its joint venture partner, Stagecoach, was disqualified due to an invalid bid in April 2019.
Virgin Trains History
Amid the privatisation of British Rail during the mid 1990s, the newly-formed Virgin Rail Group submitted multiple bids to operate several different train franchises, including Gatwick Express, InterCity CrossCountry and InterCity West Coast. It was successful in winning the latter two, leading to Virgin CrossCountry and Virgin West Coast (commonly referred to as Virgin Trains) commencing operations in January and March 1997 respectively.
One of Virgin's franchise commitments was to replace the British Rail-era locomotives and rolling stock inherited by Virgin West Coast with brand new tilting trains..
It was expected that the Pendolinos would run at service speeds of up to 140 mph (225 km/h) and that the whole fleet would be delivered by May 2002. In order for tilting trains to be operated, Railtrack had committed itself to upgrading the West Coast Main Line as to permit 140 mph operation by 2005.
However, the modernisation of the line suffered from spiralling costs, rising from an estimated £2 billion to roughly £10 billion, while the programme had failures that were technical as well as managerial, such as the moving block signalling apparatus being immature for such a busy mixed-traffic mainline.
Railtrack would ultimately collapse while its successor, Network Rail, would also be unable to fully deliver the promised upgrade, heavily impacting Virgin West Coast's operations. The upgrade programme would be cut back, as a result, the top speed was reduced to 125 mph.
Virgin Trains' franchise was originally due to expire in March 2012. During mid 2009, Virgin founder Richard Branson launched a campaign to have the next franchise period extended for 20 to 30 years, so that Virgin could spend more on infrastructure and see a return on its investment.
Branson said the journey time between London and Birmingham could be reduced by 22 minutes to under one hour. However, the approach was turned down by the Department for Transport. Virgin proceeded to apply for a two-year extension, but this was also 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 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 for Transport announced that the end date had been postponed to allow the recommendations in the McNulty Report to be absorbed. In October 2011, the Department announced that Virgin had been granted a franchise extension until December 2012
An Invitation to tender was issued to the shortlisted bidders in January 2012, and the Department for Transport awarded FirstGroup the new franchise in August 2012. Virgin spoke out against this decision, claiming that the methodology used to award the franchise was flawed, while Richard Branson stated that it was unlikely Virgin would bid for any future franchises. When the DfT did not directly respond to Virgin's concerns, the operator launched proceedings for a judicial review.
During October 2012, the Secretary of State announced that 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 would be held.
The government announced that 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 announced that the franchise would again be extended until 31 March 2017. During May 2013, there was a controversy regarding new uniforms, with claims that the blouses were too revealing and potentially exposed dark bras to the public. Virgin Rail Group responded to this by offering a voucher worth £20 to allow employees to purchase a top to wear underneath the new blouses.
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 and Blackpool North was approved, and the services started in December 2014.
During November 2016, the franchise was further extended until March 2019. In February 2018, the contract was yet again extended until March 2019, with an option to extend it further to March 2020. However, in March 2018, it was announced that the contract would end in September 2019 when the new West Coast Partnership franchise would commence.
In December 2018, it was announced that Virgin Trains had been granted a one-year extension until March 2020. In April 2019, Stagecoach revealed that it had been disqualified from the franchises it was bidding for, including the West Coast Partnership.
One month later, the company announced that it would mount a legal challenge to its disqualification. However, on 17 June 2020, the High Court ruled against the company and that the decision had been lawful.
In August 2019, it was announced that the Inter-City West Coast franchise had been awarded to Avanti West Coast, thus confirming that Virgin Trains would cease to operate trains after 7 December 2019. The final Virgin Trains service was the 21:42 service from London Euston to Wolverhampton arriving at 23:45.
Virgin Trains Services
  • In May 1998, Virgin introduced two new services from London Euston, to Shrewsbury and to 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. This was increased to four trains per day in the May 2018 timetable.
  • On 23 July 2002, the first elements of the new fleet of Pendalino tilting trans was introduced into passenger services from Birmingham International to Manchester Piccadilly, intentionally coinciding with the opening of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
  • In September 2004, a London Euston to Llandudno service was introduced, but it ceased in December 2008.
  • In September 2005, Virgin introduced its first 125 miles per hour (201 km/h) 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.
  • In December 2008, a Wrexham General to London Euston service was introduced, operating south in the morning with an evening return.
  • In February 2009, an hourly London Euston to Chester service was introduced.
  • 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 timetable changes from 8 December 2013. Trains between Edinburgh/Glasgow and London services would call at Sandwell & Dudley, replacing the hourly Wolverhampton to Euston service. In addition most Liverpool services additionally called at Crewe.
Virgin Trains Overview
Virgin Trains Franchise(s):
InterCity West Coast
9 March 1997 – 7 December 2019
Virgin Trains Main Route(s):
London–West Midlands
Virgin Trains Other Route(s):
Virgin Trains Fleet Size: 56
Class 390 Pendolino sets
20 Class 221 Super Voyager sets
Virgin Trains Stations Called At: 46
Virgin Trains Stations Operated: 15
Virgin Trains Parent Company:
Virgin Rail Group
Virgin Group (51%)
Stagecoach (49%)
Virgin Trains Reporting Mark: VT
Virgin Trains Predecessor: InterCity
Virgin Trains Successor: Avanti West Coast
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