Posted 15th February 2016 | 10 Comments

Virgin extends more East Coast services to Scotland

TICKETS for additional Virgin Trains East Coast services to Edinburgh are due to go on sale this Friday (19 February), with the improved service set to follow on 16 May.

VTEC is boosting its intercity timetable between England and Scotland mostly by extending London services which currently start from or terminate at Newcastle.

The change will add 42 Edinburgh services a week, the operator said, with four more in each direction from Monday to Friday and one extra in each direction on Sunday. The extensions will mean that VTEC is offering another 22,000 seats on the route each week.

The revised timetable, which required ORR approval, will mean that there will be a train to or from Edinburgh on the East Coast route every 30 minutes for most of the day from 16 May. VTEC is also extending the 'booking horizon' from 12 to 24 weeks.

VTEC is upgrading its fleets of Mk3 and Mk4 coaches by investing £21 million pounds in leather seats in First Class as well as new Standard seats, carpets and lighting. The upgrade will almost certainly be the last of any significance before the fleets are displaced by Intercity Express trains within the next three to five years.

Government ministers on both sides of the border have welcomed the additional trains, while VTEC managing director David Horne said: “This is a major boost for our customers travelling between Edinburgh and London who will be able to catch a train every half-hour for most of the day. We have seen how increasing capacity and frequency adds to the popularity of train travel and we’re confident that customers will respond positively to these changes. Feedback on our new train interiors, many of which have been fitted out at Craigentinny depot in Edinburgh, has been incredibly positive and customers are telling us they love the fresh, new look.”

The franchise, in which Stagecoach Group has a 90 per cent stake and Virgin Trains 10 per cent, began almost a year ago after the route had been operated by the Department for Transport's subsidiary Directly Operated Railways for five years.

When Stagecoach and Virgin took over the franchise on 1 March 2015, the promised improvements announced then included 'extra and new direct services to London from key locations in Scotland and England and more weekend services'.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • David Faircloth, Derby

    With regard to the XC services being discussed, these fill two purposes; obviously, they provide long distance connections between the south/south west of England and Yorkshire, the north east, and Scotland, but also many shorter distance links between towns and cities. The latter is particularly true on services in the Birmingham Southampton corridor; times between stations vary between about ten and twenty five minutes.

    I often travel on XC services; sometimes they are just short journeys from my home in Derby to Sheffield, Birmingham, Leeds or York, but other times further afield. But by listening to accents, many people choose to travel by XC because of, I guess, the convenience; a long trip on a 'Voyager' is preferred to a cross-London transfer! Scots and Geordies on Torquay station or Mancunians and Brummies at Bournemouth are not unusual.

    By observation, the long distance passengers seem to fall into two general categories; older people, going on holiday to places like Torquay or Bournemouth, and younger ones who look very much like students traveling to/from uni. But for the shorter distances, the mix is far more varied; commuters, race goers (just look at the fashions when Royal Ascot or York races are on!), families on trips to the seaside, people traveling on business (particularly in first class), and so on.

    There's a Bournemouth Manchester service which stops at Southampton at about 17.25hrs; I've been on it when it's been “chocker” when leaving Southampton, with many of those who joined at Central getting off at Southampton Airport. Leamington Spa to Coventry is another segment busy with local passengers; but of course, on that particular section the XC Manchester Bournemouths are the only trains since the SRA caused the North East South Coast services to be diverted via Solihull.

    Many XC services provide this dual role; and I guess the reason they are able to provide direct services over such long distances is because of this duality my guess is there would be insufficient demand for services between Edinburgh and Plymouth every hour if just the long distance passengers were the only ones using them.

    So although (as Chris Neville-Smith says) Newcastle to Southampton/Bournemouth via London is quicker, for “oldies” like me a direct service is preferred; and if a change is necessary, somewhere smallish and without having to change platforms is welcomed (if going beyond Reading or Southampton from stations north east of Birmingham, New Street or Basingstoke are often shown on the NRES website of places to change, but Leamington or Winchester, for example, are far better for older people, young families with luggage, etc).

    As Chris Green says, the major problem with Voyagers is their seating capacity; is it really necessary for all toilets to be universal ones? And what about a fresh look at the eYoyager project? They already run many miles under the wires, and as within another seven or eight years or so this will increase further, could a resurrected eVoyager project be a way of increasing seating capacity?

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    I don't understand all this hatred towards the Voyagers - the only thing wrong with them is the length of the train. If there were enough Voyagers to go around, more services could have run in 8-car formation, or even 9-car formation if 4 and 5-car unit were coupled.

  • jak jaye, sutton coldfiled

    Virgin will be never be forgiven for hoisting the awful Voyagers on the traveling public,they are rancid and the worst trains on the network they even make the pacers look good which sums them up,makes one long for the BR days with 'real'trains 7 coach loco hauled stock

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Regarding XC's history. If I recall correctly:

    * In BR days. there was a north-east to south-west service, and a York to Reading/Southampton service. The services to the south-west ran via Doncaster, and the services from Reading ran via Leeds.

    * When Virgin XC introduced Voyagers, they extended the Reading services to Newcastle, and also swapped round the Leeds/Doncaster routes.

    * Both VXC and AXC kept changing their minds about which services should go beyond Reading, how many, and whether they should come from the north-west or north-east. North-east to Southampton/Bournemouth was never a great option though, because it was usually quicker to go via London.

    Anyway, going back to the original idea of extending the current Reading service to Edinburgh, I doubt it would ever be viable. You could introduce new trains on the route, but it's the infrastructure on the XC routes into Birmingham that suck, and it's unlikely the journey times could be competitive with changing at London.

    A more realistic proposition might be running trains on to the ECML to Reading via East-West rail once they build the central section. That should be doable post-HS2, but that's yonks away. Not sure how much more you could squeeze in pre-HS2.

  • David Faircloth, Derby

    Reading - Newcastle is a shortened service; when Voyagers were introduced by Virgin on XC services, the Reading - Newcastle one started back at Bournemouth (or was it Poole?) and at least some ran north of Newcastle into Scotland - the cutting-back at both ends was introduced by the SRA (like the omission of the Chesterfield stop). This service also ran via Birmingham International and Coventry.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    I guess you're right without major infrastructure changes north of Newcastle, there'd just no possibility of accommodating 5 trains an hour, as good as a direct service would be for the people of Reading and Oxford. The infrastructure will only just cope with 4 trains when TPE extend their services in the new franchise.

  • Noam, OXFORD

    Chris - how? XC doesn't have enough stock to properly run the current service, let alone extensions. There is no way you can properly run a former Inter City service with four-car trains, yet XC do this day in, day out, and the passenger experience is abysmal. THe XC network should be contracted, not expanded, and more services operated with double sets.

    Anyone wishing to go from Reading to Edinburgh can either:

    i. Change anywhere between Birmingham and Newcastle.
    ii. Go via London which will be vastly quicker and vastly more comfortable on an East Coast set vice a Voyager.

    I doubt your namesake would want the current XC service inflicted on any more passengers than it already is.

  • Danny, Newcastle

    Good idea Chris, but not sure where the extra capacity between Newcastle and Edinburgh would come from to accommodate this? There can't be much spare capacity left when you take into account the new half hourly service from VTEC, and the services from First Trans Pennine Express which are also going to extend to Edinburgh instead of terminating at Newcastle.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    One thing I don't understand about this: there's always been 2tph London to Edinburgh on Saturdays, but that came at the expense of the Leeds service which is reduced from 2tph weekdays and 1tph Saturday. I assumed that this was rolling stock was being re-deployed on weekends to prioritise Edinburgh,

    So presumably, from May, they'll be doing 2tph London-Edinburgh AND 2tph London-Leeds. But I'm not aware of them getting any extra rolling stock yet. How do they do this?

    [Most of the extra Edinburghs are extensions of existing Newcastle workings, except one of the Sunday services, which is new. Perhaps the answer is tighter diagrams? I'll see what VTEC have to say, because you raise an interesting point which is worth including in the print edition version of this story.--Editor.]

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    This might encourage more people to travel by train than plane between Edinburgh Waverley and London King's Cross. Yes, it may be slower, but it's a more environmentally friendly way to travel. Oh, and another point. Maybe the CrossCountry services which currently terminate at Newcastle from Reading could be extended to Edinburgh? That would give Reading and Oxford, which are two major stations on the network, a direct service to Scotland.