Virgin Trains East Coast - A
Virgin Trains East Coast - A
Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) (legal name East Coast Main Line Company Limited) 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.
Virgin Trains East Coast History
Virgin Trains East Coast Award
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. 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.
Virgin Trains East Coast Financial Problems
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.
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.
Virgin Trains East Coast Demise
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.
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.
Virgin Trains East Coast 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:
1 tph: Peterborough, Doncaster, Wakefield Westgate
1 tph: Stevenage, Grantham, Doncaster, Wakefield Westgate
1 tpd to Skipton via Keighley
1 tpd to Bradford Forster Square via Shipley
1 tpd to Harrogate via Horsforth
York, Darlington, Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed
1tpd to Inverness
1tpd to Stirling
4tpd to Aberdeen (3 from London King's Cross, 1 from Leeds)
Peterborough, Newark North Gate, Doncaster, York, Northallerton (1tp2h), Darlington, Durham, Newcastle, Alnmouth (1tp2h)
(Northallerton and Alnmouth are usually served by alternate trains)
1 tpd to Glasgow Central
1 tpd to Sunderland
Stevenage, Peterborough, Grantham;
1tp2h extended to York calling at Retford and Doncaster
1tpd to Lincoln
1tpd to Hull
Virgin Trains East Coast Named Trains
Virgin Trains East Coast operated a number of named passenger trains, including:
Name Origin Destination Other details
Virgin Trains East Coast Service Changes
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.
In May 2016, a number of weekday services to Newcastle were extended to Edinburgh meaning there was 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.
Virgin Trains East Coast Overview
Virgin Trains East Coast Franchise(s):
InterCity East Coast
1 March 2015 – 23 June 2018
Virgin Trains East Coast Main Route(s):
Virgin Trains East Coast Other Route(s):
Virgin Trains East Coast Fleet Size:
31 InterCity 225 sets
14 InterCity 125 sets
Virgin Trains East Coast Stations Called At: 53
Virgin Trains East Coast Stations Operated: 12
Virgin Trains East Coast Parent Company:
Stagecoach Group (90%)
Virgin Group (10%)
Virgin Trains East Coast Reporting Mark: GR
Virgin Trains East Coast Predecessor: East Coast
Virgin Trains East Coast Successor: London North Eastern Railway