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Virgin Trains was a train operating company in the United Kingdom. It operates long-distance passenger services on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) between London, the West Midlands, North West England, North Wales and Scotland. Although it is branded as part of Virgin Group, the group's share in it is only 51%, the remaining 49% being held by Stagecoach Group. It was taken over by Avanti West Coast on 7 December 2019.


See also: Virgin CrossCountry

Virgin Trains was formed to take advantage of the privatisation of British Rail in the mid-1990s. It was initially successful in winning two rail franchises: InterCity West Coast (Virgin West Coast), operating long-distance services on the WCML, and InterCity CrossCountry (Virgin CrossCountry), operating a group of long-distance non-London routes centred on Birmingham.[1] The two franchises, though legally and operationally separate,[2] were marketed as a single brand.

The CrossCountry franchise was lost to Arriva group in 2007.[3] Most services were transferred to Arriva, except those between Manchester and Scotland, which went to First Transpennine Express,[4] and those between Birmingham and Scotland, which went to Virgin West Coast.[5]

In 1997 Virgin placed the largest rolling-stock order (£1bn) in British history with new Class 390 Pendolino 140 mph tilting trains for the West Coast Main Line (WCML) network. The cross-country routes were served by new diesel-electric four-coach Class 220 Voyager and five-coach Class 221 SuperVoyager trains. By December 2004 Virgin Trains had replaced all the rolling stock it had inherited from British Rail.

The West Coast Main Line itself has been the subject of a £9bn refurbishment programme to accept the new trains.[6] The project ran three years over schedule, cost twice the original estimate, and was cut back so that the Pendolinos' 140 mph potential speed is not exploited, trains running instead at a maximum 125 mph due to signalling constraints. There have been proposals for 135 mph (Template:Convert/outsep) running on certain sections of the WCML, in particular the remodelled Trent Valley area, but these are yet to be considered by Network Rail. (See West Coast Main Line for full details.)

Some destinations, including Blackpool, Poole, Portsmouth, London Paddington and Swansea, were removed from the Virgin Trains network altogether. As well as this, Milton Keynes Central is now sparsely served by peak-time West Coast services in order to deter commuters from using Virgin's services as an additional link to Euston.[citation needed]

All seats originally had an on-board audio entertainment system featuring a number of radio or pre-recorded music channels. This was disabled in March 2010[7][8] because of the introduction of on-board WiFi provided by T-Mobile.[9][10] The service is available free in First Class, and for a charge in Standard Class.[11]


File:390001 Watford Junction.JPG

The first Class 390 Pendolino No. 390001 'Virgin Pioneer' arrives at Watford Junction.

File:Virgin Trains Class 390 Pendolino Standard Class Interior.JPG

The interior of Standard Class aboard a Class 390 Pendolino.

File:Virgin Trains Class 390 Pendolino First Class Interior.JPG

The interior of First Class aboard a 390 Pendolino.

Virgin Trains' main terminus is London Euston. A secondary terminus, for certain trains to Scotland, is Birmingham New Street. A summary of Virgin Trains services is shown below (most stations with only a limited service are not shown):[5]

London - Birmingham - Wolverhampton[12]

Route Calling At Main Stock
A London Euston to Birmingham New Street and Wolverhampton London Euston, Watford Junction, Milton Keynes Central, Rugby, Coventry, Birmingham International and Birmingham New Street, with some services extending to Sandwell and Dudley and Wolverhampton Pendolino

London - Manchester[13]

Route Calling At Main Stock
B London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly London Euston and Milton Keynes Central, branching off via Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield or Crewe and Wilmslow, and continuing to Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly Pendolino

London - Stafford - Liverpool[14]

Route Calling At Main Stock
C London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street London Euston, Stafford, Runcorn and Liverpool Lime Street Pendolino

London / West Midlands to Chester / North Wales[15]

Route Calling At Main Stock
D London Euston to Chester, Holyhead and Wrexham General London Euston, Milton Keynes Central, Crewe and Chester, with some services extending to Flint, Prestatyn, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno Junction, Bangor and Holyhead, and with one service every weekday extending to Wrexham General Super Voyager

London - The North West - Glasgow[16]

File:Virgin Train.jpg

A Virgin Voyager train, seen near Edinburgh.

Route Calling At Main Stock
E London Euston to Glasgow Central London Euston, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme Lake District, Penrith, Carlisle and Glasgow Central Pendolino

Birmingham - The North West - Scotland[17]

File:Vt vector map.svg

A Map of Virgin Trains Services showing the off-peak service pattern each hour.

Route Calling At Main Stock
F Birmingham New Street to Glasgow Central or Edinburgh Waverley Birmingham New Street, Wolverhampton, Crewe, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme Lake District, Penrith and Carlisle, continuing to Glasgow Central or Haymarket and Edinburgh Waverley Super Voyager


Virgin Trains suffered poor punctuality compared with some other transport operators between 2001 and 2006, according to Office of Rail Regulation statistics. Punctuality has gradually improved, and the latest figures published on Virgin Trains' website were 93% for the last 4 recorded weeks (25 July to 21 August 2010).[18]

The PPM MAA (Public Performance Measure Moving Annual Average - % of trains arriving within 10 minutes of the scheduled times) figures for Virgin Trains (Cross Country services and West Coast services) are as follows:

Financial year to 31 March 2002: West Coast 68.7%, Cross Country 62.5%. [19]

Financial year to 31 March 2003: West Coast 73.5%, Cross Country 61.7%. [20]

Financial year to 31 March 2004: West Coast 74.8%, Cross Country 72.2%.[21]

Financial year to 31 March 2005: West Coast 72.1%, Cross Country 77.8%.[22]

Financial year to 31 March 2006: West Coast 83.5%, Cross Country 80.9%.[23]

Financial year to 31 March 2007: West Coast 86.0%, Cross Country 83.9%.[24]

File:Virgin Trains class 87 & train.jpg

Class 87 electric locomotive and Mark 3 coaches.

Financial year to 31 March 2008: West Coast 86.2%.[25]

Financial year to 31 March 2009: West Coast 80.0%.[26]

The final figures published for the CrossCountry franchise were 83.4% (PPM) for the first half of the third quarter of financial year 2007-8 and 85.3% (MAA) for the final 12 months of the franchise.[27]

The latest figures published for the West Coast franchise were 83.5% (PPM) for the fourth quarter of 2009-10 and 84.6% (MAA) up to 31 March 2010.[28] These figures are up 9.3% and 2.2% on the corresponding figures from the same period a year earlier, and the 12 months to 31 December 2009, respectively.

Problems with punctuality had been attributed by Virgin in its early years to the ageing and outdated infrastructure on which it initially ran.[citation needed]

Chris Green as chief executive[29][30] led a drive to improve reliability and punctuality after much press criticism in 2001, and by 2006, due to improved reliability of trains and completion of major infrastructure projects, performance was better. Virgin has undertaken a number of projects to increase punctuality, including radio-controlled watches.[31]

Grayrigg derailment[]

Main article: Grayrigg derailment

On 23 February 2007, Pendolino 390033 forming the 17:15 service from London Euston to Glasgow Central derailed near Oxenholme in North West England.[32] The train was carrying about 180 people. Several carriages were left lying on the railway embankments. An elderly woman died in the crash. Five people were seriously injured. The accident was caused by a faulty set of points.[33] The train itself was widely praised for the way it stood up to the accident: it kept its shape while rolling down the embankment and did not lose its structural integrity.

The future[]

Projected growth in passenger numbers on the West Coast routes prompted discussions about increasing the length of Pendolino sets to 11 vehicles.[34] The possibility of 10-car trains was foreseen in the original WCML strategy, so the infrastructure improvements required would be minimal. The DFT has ordered two extra coaches for 31 of the 52 sets. These will be supplemented by four entirely new 11-car trains, ordered in 2008.[35] This order is to be completed in time for the franchise change in March 2012.

Following completion of the Trent Valley Line quadrupling and Rugby junction upgrades to allow 125 mph running (completed by 2008), West Coast journey times fell further: Glasgow-Euston 4hr 15mins, Euston-Birmingham 1hr 10 mins (fastest) or 1hr 20mins (off-peak). Virgin claims that 135 mph running may be possible in places,[36] although Network Rail remains sceptical, stating that significant signalling upgrades would be required.[citation needed]

After much planning, an open-access operator, Wrexham & Shropshire, submitted a plan to operate services between London Marylebone and North Wales. This involves traversing a short stretch of the WCML in the West Midlands area. Virgin Trains unsuccessfully objected to this proposal, which entails Wrexham & Shropshire trains calling at Wolverhampton. Due to the moderation of competition protection in Virgin's West Coast franchise agreement, Wrexham & Shropshire had to submit a modified proposal involving only limited use of Wolverhampton, with Tame Bridge Parkway used as its main Midlands stop. Wrexham & Shropshire began operations on 28 April 2008. In February 2008, Virgin announced that it would also begin services between London and Wrexham, but via Chester, initially on a trial basis with one train per day on weekdays in each direction. Should the service prove successful, Virgin plans to introduce more services during the week and at weekends.[37]

Richard Branson has launched a campaign to have the next franchise period extended for 20 to 30 years, so that Virgin would be able to spend more on infrastructure and be able to see a return on investment.[38] He said the journey time between London and Birmingham could be reduced by 22 minutes to under one hour.

Rolling stock[]

Current fleet[]

The majority of Virgin's services along the WCML are operated by its fleet of 52 nine-car Class 390 Pendolino EMUs. 16 Class 57 diesel locomotives were operated by Virgin, although four of these are now operated by Arriva Trains Wales, leaving Virgin Trains with 12. These locomotives are primarily used for "Thunderbird" duties, i.e. to rescue failed trains. Virgin also operates 21 five-car Class 221 Super Voyager tilting DMUs; these primarily operate on the WCML north of Birmingham, and on the North Wales line. In addition the 18:46 standard-class-only Euston to Preston service on Fridays is operated by a Class 90 locomotive and DVT on hire from EWS, with a rake of mark 3 coaches refurbished to Pendolino and Super Voyager standard.

Virgin Trains has now signed a lease on a rake of dedicated mark 3 coaches, with two DVTs. This set, nicknamed the 'Pretendolino', has been refurbished to the same standard as the Pendolinos and Super Voyagers. Re-upholstered seating, power points, wi-fi and a full external re-paint has been implemented. Virgin intends to use this set on the 18:46 Euston to Preston service on Fridays and also to hire the train out as a charter train; it will also serve as a spare in the event of breakdown of a Pendolino or Super Voyager.[39][40]

 Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Number   Routes operated   Built 
 mph   km/h 
Class 57/3 100px Diesel locomotive 95 153 12 Thunderbird Locomotive 2002–04
Class 221 Super Voyager 100px Diesel-Electric Multiple Unit 125 200 21 London - Chester/Holyhead
Birmingham - Glasgow/Edinburgh
Class 390 Pendolino 100px Electric Multiple Unit 140 225 52 (1 beyond repair after Grayrigg Derailment) London - Birmingham
London - Manchester
London - Liverpool
London - Glasgow
Class 90[41] 100px Electric locomotive 110 180 1 hired from
DB Schenker
18:46 Fridays Only London - Preston
Charter Train
Spare Train
Mark 3 Coach[41] 100px Passenger Coach 125 200 8 18:46 Fridays Only London - Preston
Charter Train
Spare Train
1975 - 1986 (refurbished 2009)
100px Driving Van Trailer 125 200 1 18:46 Fridays Only London - Preston
Charter Train
Spare Train
1988 (refurbished 2009)

The Pendolino fleet is allocated to the Alstom Traincare Centre at Longsight (Manchester), with lighter maintenance and overnight stabling carried out at Wembley (London), Oxley (Wolverhampton), Edge Hill (Liverpool) and Polmadie (Glasgow). Longsight is also 'home' to the Class 57 'Thunderbird' fleet. Thunderbird locomotives are stationed at strategic points along the WCML such as Crewe and Preston.

The Class 221 Super Voyager fleet is allocated to Bombardier's Central Rivers depot near Burton upon Trent.

See also[]


  1. Passenger Rail Franchises — Virgin Cross Country. Association of Train Operating Companies.
  2. Site Terms & Conditions. Virgin Trains.
  3. Template:Cite news
  4. The Pennine Class 185 experience - What do passengers think? (PDF). Passenger Focus (May 2007). Retrieved on 2010-13-10. “From December 2007 the TransPennine network will be expanded to include services between Manchester Airport and Scotland replacing the current Cross Country service on the West Coast Main Line operated by Virgin CrossCountry.”
  5. 5.0 5.1 Network Map, Virgin Trains.
  6. West Coast Main Line. Built in the 19th Century. Rebuilt for the 21st.. Network Rail. Retrieved on 4 July 2009.
  7. "Please note: Virgin Trains onboard entertainment system no longer functions." Headphones, Virgin Trains.
  9. Template:Cite press release
  10. Template:Cite press release
  11. Wi-Fi on Virgin Trains. Virgin Trains. Retrieved on 2010-10-24.
  18. Virgin Trains' Performance. Virgin Trains.
  19. National Rail Trends 2001-2002 Quarter Four. Strategic Rail Authority.
  20. National Rail Trends 2002-2003 Quarter Four. Strategic Rail Authority.
  21. National Rail Trends 2003-2004 Quarter Four. Strategic Rail Authority.
  22. National Rail Trends 2004-2005 Quarter Four. Strategic Rail Authority.
  23. National Rail Trends 2005-2006 Quarter Four. Office of Rail Regulation.
  24. National Rail Trends 2006-2007 Quarter Four. Office of Rail Regulation.
  25. National Rail Trends 2007-2008 Quarter Four. Office of Rail Regulation.
  26. National Rail Trends 2008-2009 Quarter Four. Office of Rail Regulation.
  27. National Rail Trends 2007-2008 Quarter Three. Office of Rail Regulation.
  28. National Rail Trends Chapter 2. Office of Rail Regulation.
  29. Template:Cite news
  30. Balmforth, John (2007). Virgin Trains: a decade of progress. London: Ian Allan. ISBN 978-0-7110-3224-8. 
  31. Template:Cite press release
  32. Template:Cite news
  33. Template:Cite news
  34. Pendolino lengthening and fleet expansion project. Department for Transport.
  35. Template:Cite news
  36. Template:Cite press release
  37. Template:Cite news
  38. Template:Cite news
  39. Google Groups page on the topic
  40. pictures of the refurbished set
  41. 41.0 41.1

External links[]

Template:Commons category Template:Commons category

Preceded by
As part of British Rail
Operator of Cross-Country franchise
1997 — 2007
Succeeded by
Operator of InterCity West Coast franchise
1997 — 2012

Preceded by
First Transpennine Express
Train Operator of the Year
Succeeded by
Northern Rail

Template:Virgin Group

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