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Virgin Trains is a train operating company in the United Kingdommarker, which currently provides services from London Eustonmarker to the West Midlands, North West England, North Walesmarker and Scotlandmarker, and from Birmingham New Streetmarker to North West England and Scotland, on the West Coast Main Linemarker. Although it is branded as part of the Virgin Group, the group's share in the company is only 51%, with the remaining 49% held by Stagecoach Group.

Between 1997 and 2007 the company included Virgin CrossCountry, which provided services linking the south east and south-west of England with the north of England and Scotlandmarker via Birminghammarker. The majority of these services were transferred in 2007 to the new CrossCountry franchise owned by Arriva.

Virgin Trains was formed to take advantage of the privatisation of British Rail in the mid 1990s, and was initially successful in winning two: InterCity West Coast and InterCity Cross Country. The two franchises, although separate companies (in common ownership) both legally and operationally, were marketed as a single brand.

Current routes

Code Route Rolling stock
A Londonmarker to the West Midlandsmarker Pendolinos
B Londonmarker to Manchestermarker via Stoke-on-Trentmarker or Crewemarker Pendolinos
C Londonmarker to Liverpoolmarker Pendolinos
D Londonmarker to Chestermarker and North Walesmarker Super Voyagers
E Londonmarker to the North West of England and Scotlandmarker Pendolino
F Birminghammarker to Glasgowmarker and Edinburghmarker Super Voyagers


The first Class 390 Pendolino No.
390001 'Virgin Pioneer' arrives at Watford Junction.
The interior of Standard Class aboard a Class 390 Pendolino.
The interior of First Class aboard a 390 Pendolino.
The complimentary Breakfast was served to passengers in First Class aboard the Class 390 Pendolino trains before the improved service was launched in January 2009.

Virgin Trains run nine trains per hour in and out of London’s Euston stationmarker. This is noticeably busier than both East Coast in and out of Kings Crossmarker (four trains per hour), and East Midlands Trains, (five per hour) in and out of St Pancrasmarker.

This timetable was introduced on 14 December 2008 as a result of the West Coast Main Line (WCMLmarker) route modernisation works. The Monday - Friday timetable's general service pattern is shown below. Other calls/timings occur, mainly during peak times. There are also "non/limited stop" trains running to justify the claimed fastest journey times (on adverts for example). Most trains are run by Pendolinos with exceptions shown below:

Euston-West Midlands
Route Calling At Main Stock
XX:03 London Eustonmarker-Birmingham New Streetmarker Rugbymarker,Coventrymarker, Birmingham International Pendolino
XX:23 London Eustonmarker-Wolverhamptonmarker Watford Junctionmarker,Coventrymarker, Birmingham International Pendolino
XX:43 London Eustonmarker-Birmingham New Streetmarker Milton Keynesmarker,Coventrymarker, Birmingham International Pendolino

A handful of Birmingham terminators are operated by Super Voyagers (used for the few West Midlands-North Wales trains).

Route Calling At Main Stock
XX:00 London Eustonmarker-Manchester Piccadillymarker Stoke-on-Trentmarker, Macclesfieldmarker, Stockportmarker Pendolino
XX:20 London Eustonmarker-Manchester Piccadillymarker Milton Keynesmarker,Stoke-on-Trentmarker, Stockportmarker Pendolino
XX:40 London Eustonmarker-Manchester Piccadillymarker Crewemarker, Wilmslowmarker, Stockportmarker Pendolino

The 3 trains an hour plan had a knock-on effect on local services in the Manchester area; a number of peak-period local trains were axed, a matter which caused some controversy.

Route Calling At Main Stock
XX:07 London Eustonmarker-Liverpool Lime Streetmarker Staffordmarker,Crewemarker, Runcornmarker, Pendolino

Average travel time for the whole journey was reduced from 2 hours 30 minutes to less than 2 hours 15 minutes.

A Virgin Voyager train, seen near Edinburgh.

Route Calling At Main Stock
XX:30 London Eustonmarker-Glasgow Centralmarker Warrington Bank Quaymarker, Wigan North Westernmarker, Prestonmarker and Lancastermarker with most continuing to Oxenholme Lake Districtmarker/Penrithmarker(alternating), Carlislemarker Pendolino

A handful of Lancaster terminators are operated by Super Voyagers (the other half of a single unit split at Crewe, with the other half running towards Chester). Some also call at Motherwellmarker

Route Calling At Main Stock
XX:20 Birmingham New Streetmarker-Glasgow Centralmarker/Edinburgh Waverleymarker Wolverhamptonmarker, Crewemarker, Warrington Bank Quaymarker, Wigan North Westernmarker, Prestonmarker and Lancastermarker with most continuing to Oxenholme Lake Districtmarker/Penrithmarker(alternating), Carlislemarker, Haymarketmarker (Edinburgh only) SuperVoyager

Euston/West Midlands-Chester/North Wales
Route Calling At Main Stock
XX:10 London Euston-Chestermarker Milton Keynesmarker, Crewemarker SuperVoyager
XX:10 (7 per day) London Euston-Holyheadmarker Chestermarker Flintmarker, Prestatynmarker, Rhylmarker, Colwyn Baymarker, Llandudno Junctionmarker, Bangormarker (2 terminating here) and Holyheadmarker SuperVoyager
18:10 London Euston-Wrexham Generalmarker. Milton Keynesmarker, Nuneatonmarker, Crewemarker,Chestermarker SuperVoyager

One service goes to and from Birmingham New Street. This service is provided with Super Voyagers only (they are in double formation until Crewe or Chester and single formation after that, with one unit terminating at Chester or going to Lancaster, and the other continuing to North Wales/Chester).

At peak times, calls at Rugby, Milton Keynes and Watford Junction have been curtailed. London Midland provide commuter services for these stations instead while Virgin trains make additional calls at Trent Valley stations: Lichfield Trent Valley (2),Tamworth (2) and Nuneaton (3).Sources for the new Virgin timetable:

Cross Country

Prior to 11 November 2007, Virgin Trains ran the CrossCountry franchise, which operated long-distance services from the south and south-west of England, via the Midlands to the north of England and Scotland. These services have now been transferred to a new franchise, CrossCountry, which was awarded to the Arriva Group, along with some former Central Trains services. However, the former Virgin Cross Country services between Manchestermarker and Scotland were transferred to First TransPennine Express & CrossCountry services between Birmingham and Glasgow have been transferred to Virgin West Coast.


Virgin Trains has had a poor reputation for punctuality compared with some other transport operators. The company has now improved its punctuality and the figures published on Virgin Trains' website are consistent with this view.

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:

The financial year 2001-2 up to 31 March 2002: West Coast 68.7%, Cross Country 62.5% .

The financial year 2002-3 up to 31 March 2003: West Coast 73.5%, Cross Country 61.7% .

The financial year 2003-4 up to 31 March 2004: West Coast 74.8%, Cross Country 72.2% .

The financial year 2004-5 up to 31 March 2005: West Coast 72.1%, Cross Country 77.8% .

The financial year 2005-6 up to 31 March 2006: West Coast 83.5%, Cross Country 80.9% .

The financial year 2006-7 up to 31 March 2007: West Coast 86.0%, Cross Country 83.9% .
The financial year 2007-8 up to 31 March 2008: West Coast 86.2% .

The financial year 2008-9 up to 31 March 2009: West Coast 80.0% .

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

The latest figures published for the West Coast franchise were 81.5% (PPM) for the first quarter of 2009/10 and 80.0% (MAA) up to 30 June 2009.

Problems with punctuality had been widely attributed by Virgin to the ageing and outdated infrastructure on which it ran.

The introduction of the Pendolino stock on the West Coast Main Line and more modern diesel-electric trains on the Cross Country route helped to improve reliability and punctuality.


A Class 220 Voyager at Bristol.
On privatisation, Virgin West Coast inherited a mixture of Mark 2 and Mark 3 coaches, with electric locomotives of Classes 86, 87 and 90. Virgin Cross-Country also inherited several Class 43 High Speed Trains, and Mark 2 coaches which were hauled by Class 47 diesel locomotives and Class 86 locomotives on electrified routes.

A drive led by Chris Green as chief executive was made 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 have undertaken a number of project to increase punctuality, including radio controlled watches

New trains, tracks and timetable

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 based on technology developed by state corporation British Rail for their prototype APT tilting train of the early 1980s; the technology was subsequently licensed to the Italian manufacturers. The Pendolino trains have a nominal top speed of , but are limited to on the West Coast Main Line; there have been proposals for running on certain sections of the West Coast Main Linemarker, namely the remodelled Trent Valley area but these are yet to be considered by Network Rail. The cross-country routes were served by new diesel-electric four-carriage Class 220 Voyager and five-carriage Class 221 SuperVoyager trains. The SuperVoyager trains have tilting ability like the Pendolino and were used for services operating on the West Coast Main Line, and the Cherwell Valley line.

By December 2004 Virgin Trains had replaced all of the rolling stock inherited from British Rail. Although the new trains offer many features not available on the older stock they also operate at higher densities, with some seats having reduced leg-room and fewer seats overall, meaning passengers often having to stand, sometimes for hundreds of miles. The cramped conditions are attributable to the inward leaning walls of the carriages that facilitate tilting. The trains were intended to work at much higher frequencies than under British Rail, and so each train has fewer seats than the ones it replaced. However the extremities of the network did not get a higher frequency, and key trains remain busy.
A loco hauled set, and a new Pendolino side-by-side at Euston in 2003
The West Coast Main Line itself has been the subject of a massive £9bn refurbishment programme to accept the new trains, one that has been the subject of massive controversy, since it was running three years late, has cost twice the original estimate, and has been cut back so that the Pendolinos' 140mph potential speed is not fully used, with trains running at a maximum 125mph due to signalling constraints. (see West Coast Main Linemarker page for full details).

In May 2003, Virgin Trains introduced some new set-down only or pick-up only stops into its passenger timetable. The intention of the restricted stops is to stop short-distance passengers from overcrowding the long-distance trains.

Additionally, some destinations, including Blackpool, Poole, Portsmouth, London Paddington and Swansea, were removed from the Virgin Trains network altogether, and some services pass through important junction stations, such as Didcot Parkwaymarker without stopping. As well as this, Milton Keynes Centralmarker 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.

By Spring 2009, WiFi internet connections (from T-Mobile) were available on all of Virgin Trains Pendolino and most Super Voyager trains. The service is complimentary for First Class passengers and a number of package options are open to all standard class passengers.

Grayrigg derailment

On the evening of 23 February 2007, Pendilino 390033 doing a service from London Euston to Glasgow Central derailed near Oxenholme in North West England. The train was the 17:15 service, headcode 1S83, from Euston and was a Class 390 Pendolino. The train was carrying about 180 people. Several carriages were left lying on the railway embankments. An 84-year-old woman, named as Margaret Masson, from Glasgow, died in the crash. Five seriously injured people were hospitalised suffering from back, neck and head injuries. One of those who was in a serious condition was the train driver, Iain Black, who was hailed as a hero by Virgin boss Richard Branson. The accident was caused by a faulty set of points.

The future

Projected growth in passenger numbers on the West Coast routes has prompted discussions about increasing the length of Pendolino sets to 11 vehicles. The likelihood of 10 car formations was foreseen in the original WCML strategy, so minimal infrastructure improvements would be required. The DFT is now going to order two extra coaches for 31 of the 52 sets to start with. These will be supplemented by four 11 car trainsets that were ordered in 2008. This will be completed by 2012 just before the franchise change in March 2012.

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

After much planning, an open-access operator, Wrexham & Shropshire submitted a plan to operate services between London and North Wales. This involves utilising a stretch of the WCML. Virgin Trains unsuccessfully objected to this proposal, which sees Wrexham & Shropshire having trains call at Wolverhampton. Due to the moderation of competition protection that is part of Virgin's West Coast franchise agreement, Wrexham & Shropshire had to submit a modified proposal that will involve only limited use of Wolverhampton, with Tame Bridge Parkway railway stationmarker used as its main Midlands stop. Wrexham & Shropshire began their operations on 28 April 2008. In February 2008, Virgin announced that they would also begin services between London and Wrexham via Chestermarker. Initially on a trial basis with one train per day on weekdays in each direction, should the service prove successful Virgin plan to introduce more services during the week and at weekends.

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. He stated that the journey time between London and Birmingham could be reduced by 22 minutes to under 1 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 4 of these are now operated by Arriva Trains Wales, leaving Virgin Trains with 12. These locomotives are primarily used for "Thunderbird" duties. Virgin also operates 21 five-car Class 221 Super Voyager DMUs; these primarily operate on the WCML north of Birmingham, and on the North Wales line. In addition the 1846 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 MK3 coaches which are refurbished to Pendolino and Super Voyager standard.

Virgin Trains have now signed a lease on a rake of dedicated mark 3 coaches, with two DVT. The set have been refurbished to the same standard as the Pendolinos and Super Voyagers. Re-upholstered seating, power points, wifi and a full external re-paint has been implemeted. Virgin intend to use this set on the 1846 Euston to Preston service on Fridays and also to hire the train out as charter train, whilst also acting as a spare for any breakdown of a Pendolino or Super Voyager.

 Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Number   Routes operated   Built 
 mph   km/h 
Class 57/3 Diesel locomotive 95 153 12 North Wales Coast Line
Thunderbird Locomotive
Class 221 Super Voyager Diesel-Electric Multiple Unit 125 200 21 West Coast Main Linemarker
North Wales Coast Line
Class 390 Pendolino Electric Multiple Unit 140 225 52 (One beyond repair after Grayrigg Derailment) West Coast Main Linemarker 2001–04
Class 90 Electric locomotive 110 180 Hired from
DB Schenker
West Coast Main Linemarker 1987-90
Mark 3 Coach Passenger Coach 125 200 10 West Coast Main Linemarker
North Wales Coast Line
1975 - 1986 (refurbished 2009)
Driving Van Trailer 125 200 1 West Coast Main Linemarker
North Wales Coast Line
1988 (refurbished 2009)

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

The Class 221 Super Voyager fleet is allocated to Bombardier's Central Rivers depot near Barton under Needwoodmarker, to the south of Burton upon Trentmarker.


  1. VT/XC timetables
  2. In VT and XC timetables, these key trains were marked as such.
  6. Google Groups page on the topic
  7. pictures of the refurbished set

See also

External links

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