Stagecoach and Virgin work in partnership to operate the West Coast intercity route under the Virgin Trains brand. The network connects some of the nation’s most iconic destinations including Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and London
The franchise has been extended multiple times since its opening in 1997 and will now run until 2019. The main spine of the West Coast mainline is a four-track railway almost all of the way from London to Crewe (where the line diverges into sections to Manchester, North Wales, Liverpool, and Scotland). The remaining sections are mainly double track, except for a few busy sections around Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool.
In November 2016, the Government announced that the franchise would be replaced by a new franchise named the West Coast Partnership, which will include operating High Speed 2 (HS2). Services are planned to begin on the first phase of HS2 in 2026.
The Department for Transport requires that the new operator have experience in operating high-speed trains (250 mph) and infrastructure. To satisfy this requirement SNCF will take a 30 per cent shareholding in the bid with Stagecoach having 50 per cent and Virgin 20 per cent.
West coast and east coast routes of Virgin Trains
Image: Virgin Trains
Virgin Trains broke the record for passengers crossing the Scottish border on the west coast route on April 24 2017, a year after it was closed during floods.
As the intercity operator celebrated 20 years of operating the west coast route, new figures showed it carried 294,000 customers between Glasgow and London over a 24-week period to March 31 2017, an increase of 28 per cent compared to the same period two years ago. Later in the year in September figures showed Virgin Trains carried 1,765,874 customers between Liverpool and London in 2016/17, an increase of 11.2 per cent compared to the same period the previous year.
The refurbished Standard Class interior of a Virgin Trains West Coast Mark 3A TSO vehicle
Photo: Peter Skuce
The mainstay of the west coast fleet is the Pendolino, the 56 trains maintained by Alstom at a number of depots along the route. Each of the trains clock up over 300,000 miles each year and in February 2017 exceeded 200 million miles since their introduction.
The twenty strong Voyager fleet, which sees service along the North Wales, West Midlands and Anglo-Scottish routes is fast approaching four million miles in service. Maintained by Bombardier, this diesel train also has tilt capacity like the Pendolino. The Pendolino trains run at 125 mph which meets the European Union’s definition of an upgraded high-speed line.