Virgin Trains East Coast

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Virgin Trains East Coast
Virgin Trains East Coast HST at Leeds (geograph 4704324).jpg
Virgin Trains East Coast HST at Leeds
Franchise(s) InterCity East Coast
1 March 2015 – mid-2018 (tbc)[nb 1]
Main route(s) LondonAberdeen
Other route(s) LeedsAberdeen
Fleet size 31 InterCity 225 sets
14 InterCity 125 sets
Stations called at 53
Stations operated 12
National Rail abbreviation GR[1]
Parent company Stagecoach Group (90%)
Virgin Group (10%)
Route map
Route map

Virgin Trains East Coast (legal name East Coast Main Line Company Limited[2]) is a train operating company in the United Kingdom that operates the InterCity East Coast franchise on the East Coast Main Line between London, Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland. It commenced operations on 1 March 2015, taking over from East Coast. It is a joint venture between Stagecoach (90%) and Virgin Group (10%).

Originally intended to run until 2023 it was later cut back to 2020. In February 2018 it was announced that the franchise would be terminated in mid-2018 as a result of Stagecoach failing to meet key financial obligations with the operation of the franchise, marking the third collapse of the InterCity East Coast rail franchise in eleven years.


In January 2014, FirstGroup, Keolis/Eurostar and Stagecoach/Virgin were announced by the Department for Transport (DfT) as the shortlisted bidders for the new InterCity East Coast franchise.[3][4] In November 2014, the eight-year franchise was awarded to the Stagecoach/Virgin joint venture and commenced operating on 1 March 2015 trading as Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC).[5][6][7][8]

Industrial action

Due to concerns over the planned introduction of driver-only operation by Virgin Trains East Coast, in addition to nearly 200 planned compulsory redundancies and staff pay concerns, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) announced that three 24-hour strikes would be held by all workers (except depot maintenance workers) at VTEC in August 2016;[9][10][11] however, following negotiations between VTEC and the RMT, these were all eventually cancelled.[12][13][14]

A further breakdown in negotiations between the RMT and VTEC resulted in the union calling for further industrial action, which took place for 24 hours on 3 October 2016.[15][16] Further strikes were subsequently called, for 48 hours on 28–29 April 2017; however, this was again cancelled before it could take place following "progress" in talks between the union and the operator.[17][18][19]

Financial problems and franchise retendering

On 28 June 2017, Stagecoach made a loss when trades were down 11% due to the loss on the East Coast service and entered into talks with the government. The RMT called for renationalisation of the franchise, although Stagecoach was confident it could make a profit within two years.[20] In November 2017, the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced that the franchise would become the first to have a public-private railway as part of reforms, and that as a result Virgin Trains East Coast will have its franchise terminate in 2020 to allow the new deal to take place.[21] VTEC had been due to pay more than £2 billion in franchise premiums to the government over the last four years of its contract.[22]

In February 2018, the end of the franchise was brought forwards to "a small number of months".[23] The DfT will either negotiate a deal with VTEC to continue to run the franchise on a temporary non-profit basis while a new franchise competition is conducted or it will be taken over by the DfT's operator of last resort, a partnership of Arup Group, Ernst & Young and SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit.[24][25][26]


Typical off-peak Monday-Friday service pattern (including other inter-city services)

Virgin Trains East Coast took over all of the services operated by East Coast. It categorises its weekday services from London King's Cross into four routes:[27]

Route Off-peak
Calling at (off-peak) Peak-time extensions
A London King's Cross to Leeds (and West Yorkshire) 2tph 1tph: Peterborough, Doncaster, Wakefield Westgate
1tph: Stevenage, Grantham, Doncaster, Wakefield Westgate
1tpd to Skipton via Keighley
1tpd to Bradford Forster Square via Shipley
1tpd to Harrogate via Horsforth
B London King's Cross to Edinburgh (express) 1tph York, Darlington, Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed 1tpd to Inverness
1tpd to Stirling
4tpd to Aberdeen (3 from London King's Cross, 1 from Leeds)
C London King's Cross to Edinburgh (semi-fast) 1tph Peterborough, Newark North Gate, Doncaster, York, Northallerton (1tp2h), Darlington, Durham, Newcastle, Alnmouth (1tp2h)
(Northallerton and Alnmouth are usually served by alternate trains)
1tpd to Glasgow Central
1tpd to Sunderland
D London King's Cross to Newark North Gate (and York) 1tph Stevenage, Peterborough, Grantham;
1tp2h extended to York calling at Retford and Doncaster
1tpd to Lincoln
1tpd to Hull

Named trains

Virgin Trains East Coast operates a number of named passenger trains, including:

Name Origin Destination Other details
Flying Scotsman London King's Cross Edinburgh Waverley Service began 1862 in both directions; named by LNER in 1924
Highland Chieftain London King's Cross Inverness 1tpd both ways, the longest VTEC route
Hull Executive London King's Cross Hull
Northern Lights London King's Cross Aberdeen 3tpd both ways

Service changes

Virgin Trains East Coast introduced once per day services to Stirling and Sunderland via Newcastle on 14 December 2015, along with one extra service each weekday evening between Hull and Doncaster via Selby.[28] In May 2016, a number of weekday services to Newcastle were extended to Edinburgh meaning there is almost a complete half hourly service between the two cities. Since December 2016, Morpeth has benefited from additional stops provided by the operator to improve connections to Edinburgh and London. VTEC are proposing to extend services that terminate at Newark and York to Lincoln and Harrogate respectively.[7] In May 2019, it is proposed that a half-hourly service to Edinburgh be introduced with a fleet of six to eight 9-car InterCity 225 sets operating limited stops services. In May 2020, it is proposed to extend services to Huddersfield and Middlesbrough.[5][7][29][30]

Following the December 2017 timetable change, VTEC introduced 24 new Saturday services, increasing the number of Saturday services to 151, only six fewer than weekdays. A weekday service from York at 4:40 am arriving in London for 7 am was also introduced.[31]

Rolling stock

Virgin Trains East Coast inherited a fleet of InterCity 125 and InterCity 225s from East Coast. Most driving vehicles received a Virgin logo within the first three days of the franchise, and all train sets received a full Virgin Trains East Coast livery by November 2015. Attention then turned to the interiors, with toilets to be refreshed and seat covers and carpets replaced.[32] The first refurbished set entered service on 31 December 2015, and by August 2016 all of the HST sets had been refurbished followed by the 225's completed refurbished fleet in January 2017.

In July 2015, an additional InterCity 125 set was transferred from East Midlands Trains.[33]

In September 2016, Virgin Trains East Coast hired three Class 90s from DB Cargo for use on services to Newark, York and Leeds.

Current fleet

 Trainset   Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Number   Notes
 mph   km/h 
InterCity 125 Class 43 43 316 at Kings Cross by Hugh Llewelyn.jpg Diesel locomotive 125 200 32
Mark 3 carriage IC125@40 - TS 42210 at York.JPG Passenger carriage 125 200 117
InterCity 225 Class 90 Class 90 at Wakefield Westgate.jpg Electric locomotive 110 177 3 A short term hire-in to cover for a shortfall in Class 91s.
Class 91 Loco 91105 at King's Cross.JPG Electric locomotive 140 225 31
Mark 4 carriage Rake of VTEC Mark 4 London Kings Cross 1.jpg Passenger carriage 140 225 302
Driving Van Trailer VTEC Intercity 225 set at King's Cross 2.jpg Driving Van Trailer 140 225 31

Future fleet

All of the current fleet are scheduled to be replaced by Class 800/Class 801 high-speed trains from December 2018. These will operate in 9-carriage and 5-carriage sets.[34][35] In March 2016, VTEC announced that its IEP trains would carry the brand name Azuma, the Japanese word for "East".[36][37]

If VTEC's application to operate extra limited stops services to Edinburgh is successful, it is proposing to operate these by retaining six to eight InterCity 225 sets.[30]

 Trainset   Class  Image Type  Top speed   Number of Units/Sets   Carriages   Routes 
 mph   km/h 
Hitachi Super Express[38] Class 800 Azuma Virgin Azuma train Kings Cross.jpg Bi-Mode Multiple Unit 140 225 10 5 All
13 9
Class 801 Azuma EMU 140 225 12 5 All electrified routes
30 9
InterCity 225 Class 91 Loco 91105 at King's Cross.JPG Electric locomotive 140 225 TBC
(6 to 8)
Mark 4 Rake of VTEC Mark 4 London Kings Cross 1.jpg Passenger carriage 140 225
VTEC at Stanborough Park, Welwyn Garden City.jpg Driving Van Trailer 140 225


Virgin Trains East Coast has four main depots:



The public performance measure (PPM) shows the percentage of trains which arrive at their terminating station on time. It combines figures for punctuality and reliability into a single performance measure. The most recent figure (in the four weeks from 13 December 2015 – 9 January 2016) for Virgin Trains East Coast's PPM was 82.0%, up from 81.1% in the same period a year ago. The moving annual average PPM was 86.9%.[39]

Passenger numbers

East Coast passenger numbers in the previous year from 2011 to 2017.[40][41]


Virgin Trains East Coast is forecast to pay higher premiums to the government than its predecessor East Coast did: £3.3 billion over eight years, compared with East Coast’s £1 billion over five years.[42]

Incident with Jeremy Corbyn

According to VTEC: "CCTV footage shows Mr Corbyn returning to Coach H and sitting down at 11.43am, shortly after being filmed while sat on the floor and more than 2hrs before his final destination, Newcastle."[43]

In August 2016, a video was released of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in which he said he was forced to sit on the floor on a VTEC train to Newcastle because the train was "ram-packed". At the time, Corbyn said "Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”[44][45] However, Virgin Trains later released CCTV footage which they said showed Corbyn walking past empty seats in Coach H, filming the video and then walking back to Coach H to sit for the rest of the journey.[46][47] Corbyn said about the incident "Yes, I did walk through the train. Yes, I did look for two empty seats together so I could sit down with my wife, to talk to her. That wasn't possible so I went to the end of the train."[48] Analysis of the CCTV footage later showed that the unreserved seats shown in some of the images were occupied and that other passengers also sat in the vestibules.[49][50]


  1. ^ In February 2018, it was announced that the franchise would be terminated early within "a small number of months" as a result of Stagecoach failing to reach financial obligations with the operation of the franchise.


  1. ^ "Commercial Information" (PDF). National Rail Timetable (Sunday 17 May 2015 to Saturday 12 December 2015 ed.). Milton Keynes: Network Rail. pp. 12, 20. ISSN 1367-0352. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  2. ^ "East Coast Main Line Company Limited". Companies House. Retrieved 29 December 2017. 
  3. ^ East Coast rail shortlist revealed BBC News 17 January 2014
  4. ^ InterCity East Coast franchise shortlist announced Railway Gazette International 17 January 2014
  5. ^ a b Stagecoach and Virgin win East Coast mainline rail franchise BBC News 27 November 2014
  6. ^ More seats, more services and new trains for East Coast passengers Department for Transport 27 November 2014
  7. ^ a b c 3.3bn premium wins East Coast franchise for Stagecoach and Virgin Railway Gazette International 27 November 2014
  8. ^ Virgin bid wins East Coast franchise The Railway Magazine 27 November 2014
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ Wilson, Bill (28 June 2017). "East Coast rail line woes hit Stagecoach". BBC News. Retrieved 13 February 2018. 
  21. ^ Topham, Gwyn (29 November 2017). "East Coast rail 'bailout' could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 December 2017. 
  22. ^ Elder, Bryce (29 November 2017). "Stagecoach soars after government intervenes on contract". Financial Times. Retrieved 2 December 2017. 
  23. ^ "Update on the East Coast, West Coast and East Midlands rail franchises - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2018-02-05. 
  24. ^ "Stagecoach to lose East Coast Mainline rail franchise". BBC News. 5 February 2018. Retrieved 5 February 2018. 
  25. ^ "Stagecoach East Coast deal to end early". 6 February 2018 – via 
  26. ^ Virgin Trains East Coast franchise to end within months Railway Gazette International 6 February 2018
  27. ^ Route Map Virgin Trains East Coast
  28. ^ "Triple Swoop for Virgin Trains". 
  29. ^ "Stagecoach/Virgin bid wins East Coast franchise" The Railway Magazine issue 1366 January 2015 page 6
  30. ^ a b "Review delays ORR decision on ECML train paths" Rail issue 778 8 July 2015 page 10
  31. ^ Ltd, Insider Media. "Seat boost to Virgin's east coast mainline service". 
  32. ^ Planned Improvements Virgin Trains East Coast
  33. ^ "Mk3s transferred to VTEC" Rail issue 779 22 July 2015 page 29
  34. ^ Intercity Rail Travel Presentation Department for Transport 27 June 2011
  35. ^ Britain's Intercity Express Programme reaches financial close International Railway Journal 25 July 2012
  36. ^ "Edinburgh to London train journey time to be cut to four hours". BBC News. 18 March 2016. Retrieved 18 March 2016. 
  37. ^ "VTEC considers route options for new Azuma fleet". Rail. Peterborough: Bauer Media. 13 April 2016. 
  38. ^ "EMU Formations". AbRail. AbRail. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  39. ^ "Network Rail Performance figures (updated every four weeks)". 
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ "repainted and rebranded Virgin Trains East Coast service leaves London". 
  43. ^ "Media Room & Brand News - Virgin Trains". 
  44. ^ "Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn forced to sit on the floor of a train carriage after backing strikes by rail workers". 
  45. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn sits on floor of overcrowded train – video". 
  46. ^ "Revealed: Jeremy Corbyn had a seat during train journey he suggested was so 'ram-packed' he had to sit on floor". 
  47. ^ "Virgin Trains clarifies Labour Leader's claim of "ram-packed" service". 
  48. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn angered by train seat row questions". 
  49. ^
  50. ^

External links

  • Media related to Virgin Trains East Coast at Wikimedia Commons
  • Official website
Preceded by
East Coast
InterCity East Coast franchise
Operator of InterCity East Coast franchise
Succeeded by
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