An overhaul of Virgin Trains’ timetable this December will deliver an extra 3,300 seats per day between Scotland and Birmingham and offer fresh competition to airlines operating on the route.
The planned reconfiguration of services will deliver the first frequent direct trains from Scotland to Birmingham Airport in six years. Twenty-four of the 28 Scottish services that currently start or terminate in Birmingham will be extended to London Euston, offering new direct rail services to Scotland from Coventry, Milton Keynes and Sandwell & Dudley. This will give holidaymakers better options for travelling to Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh airports to get cheaper flights during Scottish or English school holidays.
The changes will see five-car diesel Super Voyager trains that connect Glasgow and Edinburgh to the UK’s second-biggest city largely replaced by either double Voyagers (10-cars) or nine- or 11-car electric Pendolinos. It represents an 80% increase in seating capacity compared to 2008, when the current Virgin High Frequency timetable was introduced. Some 12,967 seats will be available on weekdays, up from 9,656 today.
Scotland’s Transport Minister, Keith Brown, welcomed the increase in services, saying: “The Scottish Government is determined to deliver a rail network that brings together communities and cities, connecting people to jobs and developing social and economic opportunities for all in Scotland. Cross-border services will help support that ambition and we very much welcome the recognition by Virgin Trains of the increasing demands on services between Scotland and Birmingham and the additional capacity the extra 3,300 seats on these services every day will bring.”
Neil Rami, Chief Executive of Marketing Birmingham, said: “The news that Virgin Trains is expanding its capacity and services into Birmingham will provide a significant boost for the local economy, by helping to bring new visitors and investors to the city. Tourists and businesses alike need to reach locations as quickly and easily as possible – and an increase in rail services to Birmingham will provide another reason for them to come here.
“Birmingham’s transport infrastructure is expanding rapidly, with Virgin Trains’ passengers set to benefit from the redevelopment of New Street station and Birmingham Airport’s runway extension, which will open up direct routes into markets such as China and the West Coast of the USA. Birmingham attracted a high of 33.8 million visitors in 2012, and increased demand for services into the city should help to build on this success.”
The latest timetable changes follows phenomenal growth in passenger numbers on Virgin Trains’ Anglo-Scottish services since it took over the West Coast passenger franchise in 1997 and marks the first step-change in capacity since the company was awarded a temporary franchise in December 2012. Virgin Trains is now expected to continue running the West Coast passenger service until April 2017.
Between 2008 and 2013, passenger numbers travelling on Virgin Trains’ services between Birmingham and Edinburgh have grown by 235%. Between Glasgow and Birmingham, growth has been 261%. Meanwhile, Glasgow-Euston, the mainstay of Virgin Trains’ Anglo-Scottish operations, has seen growth of 144% over the same period. The overall level of seats available on Virgin Trains’ Anglo-Scottish services will go from 17,000 in December 2008 to 30,000 in December 2013.
Chris Gibb, Virgin Trains’ Chief Operating Officer, said: “Our plans for December represent the latest phase in our development of services on the West Coast mainline, as we strive to make the most of this iconic route by providing more trains and more seats, seven days a week. The success of recent years shows the enduring popularity of the route, and the potential that remains.
“We face intense competition from airlines, motorways and other train companies, and will continue to drive forward improvements to attract more customers and stay ahead of our competitors, as well as playing a key part in the economic and social development of the Midlands, North West England and Scotland”.
The planned timetable change has been welcomed by business leaders in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
David Birrell, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are delighted that Virgin Trains is adding this capacity on its Edinburgh to Birmingham routes, these additional seats will hopefully stimulate the business and employment opportunities as well as supporting Edinburgh’s already strong tourism offer.”
Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is an extremely positive step by Virgin Trains and one which we firmly endorse. Increasing the capacity from Glasgow to the United Kingdom’s second biggest city will certainly be of interest to the city’s business community, while leisure customers visiting Glasgow will also benefit from the additional seats. It once again reaffirms Virgin’s commitment to Glasgow, the latest in a long line of positive initiatives. Additionally, it’s extremely promising to see the company focusing on its network right across the UK, ensuring connectivity is enhanced on many different key routes.”
The December timetable is the latest step change in improvements to Anglo-Scots services by Virgin Trains. In 2004, the company introduced its tilting electric Pendolino and diesel Super Voyagers trains, revolutionising travel on the West Coast mainline and cutting the fastest Glasgow Central to Euston journey from 5 hours 13 minutes to 4 hours 41 minutes. The Scotland-Birmingham service was developed as part of the Virgin Cross Country franchise before transferring to West Coast in 2007.
The establishment of the Virgin High Frequency timetable following the £8.9bn West Coast Route Modernisation programme in December 2008 cut typical Glasgow-Euston journeys by more than 40 minutes and established the fastest 4hr, 8min journey. In December 2012, Virgin Trains introduced an hourly London-Glasgow timetable.
Virgin Trains currently operates 30 trains in each direction between Scotland and England, 15 of which operate between Glasgow and London Euston.