Virgin East Coast unveils new livery as eight-year franchise begins

The East Coast franchise is back in private hands as Virgin Trains East Coast officially started operating services yesterday.

However, setting a foreboding tone, the new franchise began not with a train, but with a bus. Weekend engineering works meant the first official Virgin Trains East Coast service, the 7.45am from Leeds, was a bus replacement service to York. Passengers then transferred to the first train service of the franchise and continued the journey onto London King’s Cross, where it arrived 26 minutes early.

Services on the line have been operated by DOR, a Department for Transport (DfT) controlled company, since November 2009.

The new franchise is set to last for eight years, until the end of March 2023, and will usher in a raft of improvements for passengers, including new services and faster and more frequent journeys.

The ‘official’ launch for the new franchise was at King’s Cross this morning, welcoming the departure of the 11am service to Edinburgh Waverley.

East coast 6

Rail minister Claire Perry MP said: “Today is the start of a new chapter for the East Coast franchise. Passengers will benefit from thousands of extra seats, new connections and improved services between London and Scotland. The deal also means more than £3bn will be returned to taxpayers.

“We are investing record amounts in building a world-class railway as part of our long-term economic plan.”

The new franchise is a collaboration between Stagecoach Group (90%) and Virgin (10%), and builds on their partnership formed running the West Coast Main Line since 1997.

As part of the franchise agreement, Virgin East Coast has promised £140m of investment to deliver an improved service and more personalised travel, including a £21m refresh of the existing fleet.

From 2018, 65 new Class 800 and 801 Super Express trains will begin to be phased into operation while most of the older stock is phased out. Hitachi / Agility Trains is providing 12 five-car 30 nine-car electric trains, plus 10 five-car and 13 nine-car bi-mode trains.

The result will be a 50% increase in capacity by 2020, with 12,200 extra seats available. Only six of the Class 91-hauled Mark 4 sets will remain.

Journey times are also set to improve and, pending ORR approval, more direct services to London from previously unserved cities.

Virgin Trains East Coast has also promised new technology, with a new website, smartphone apps, interactive touchscreen information points at major stations, portable technology for staff, and improved wi-fi.

In addition it will invest over £25m in station enhancements.

PA-22395056 c. David Parry PA Wire

As the new franchise launches Virgin have also announced the creation of a new £3m ‘Customers and Communities Fund’.

The fund, which is in addition to the £140m already committed to the franchise, will be used for projects suggested directly by Virgin Trains East Coast customers and their communities.

Twice-yearly stakeholder summits will be held along the network to discuss the ideas put forward, before the best ideas are given to the transport secretary for approval.

David Horne, MD of Virgin Trains East Coast, the former head of East Midlands Trains for Stagecoach, said: “Passengers using the East Coast Main Line are already set to benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds of infrastructure investment and service improvements over the next decade. Our new ‘Customer and Communities Improvement Fund’ builds on that but puts the decision-making power firmly in the hands of the customers and communities we serve.

“The £3m fund allows Virgin Trains East Coast passengers to shape the future of their train line like never before. We will listen to what they want as we build our customer offering around our passengers. Asking the communities along the route what they want will also complement the major programmes we are committed to around helping young people and small businesses along one of Britain’s most important train lines.”

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(Image source: David Parry/PA Wire)

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at


Andrew Gwilt   03/03/2015 at 03:07

As Virgin/Stagecoach has now taken over the East Coast Main Line. Its good to have its privatisation back but with Virgin. Virgin are to lose the West Coast franchise to Abellio or First Group or National Express or other bidders who would take over the WCML in the near future and South West Trains which has been with Stagecoach group for more than 10 years are also to lose to another train company.

The Trainguy   03/03/2015 at 11:16

How do you know Virgin will lose the WCML franchise and to the companies listed above ? I doubt Abellio would get it and National Express handed East Coast back to the government in 2009 and as for First Group, they always want to terminate their franchises early to avoid paying the government anything. Virgin are the best company to operate the WCML and as for their fares being high, so too are all other train operating companies

Rail Man   03/03/2015 at 16:49

So the government buys a fleet of brand new trains and then hands the operation over to the private sector? Companies must have been queuing up to get their hands on this one!! Yet again the government invests and private companies will take home large profits out of it? When will we learn that the reason they want to operate the railways is because they make a killing on them??

Allan   03/03/2015 at 20:18

I can never get over the constant moaning and whining from certain quarters about the rail industry and how much better it was when it was state owned and run and that they would return it to the public sector if possible. Memories are so short! I'm old enough to remember British Rail and even British Rail Catering! It was a shambles and a joke. Filthy trains, appalling food, rude staff who didn't give a "tuppeny you know what" about the customer. It is significantly better under private hands and always will be. I used to be a very regular user of Virgin Trains from Manchester to London and was never disappointed! Their introduction to East Coast is a smart move but whatever is done and whoever does it, some parties wil never be satisfied until the railways go back to State Control and if that ever happens, God help us all!!!!

Rory   06/03/2015 at 12:46

I would like to answer the comment about British Rail catering. I had some really good meals in the dinning car. Whilst travelling on leave. Also BR employed more staff and their equipment was available with relief trains running at peak times. Fares were reasonable, with no money going to share holders. If the government had not run it down it would have put up a better service than today's standards. If they invested OUR tax monies into OUR trains and not giving money to the rich via the back door. If it so bad why are most of the companies foreign like they are in the utilities. Would it not be nice for our monies invested to return to us.

Rupert Le Bere   06/03/2015 at 17:10

Allan is right and wrong. Sure under BR in the 60's, 70's and early 80's, customer 'serv ice' was a joke but it had started to turn round in a big way when sectorisation came in and by the early 90's was pretty good for a state owned industry. We all know it hit the stop blocks after Railtrack was born but that was the fault of the Railtrack itself and the meddling Government quangoes (Incl the DfT), not to mention THAT woman. Privatisation has been a success, but we shall never know to what extent that success woud have also happened under a BR commercially orientated BR.

Phil   07/03/2015 at 12:08

Ahh Nationlisation ! Does nobody remember the chronic under investment under BR? Anyone travelled on a Pacer coal wagon in the last 20 years? Also hundreds of services cancelled each year in the 80s due to strike action and a publice sector employer with a final salary pension scheme for for its 100k + workforce. SNCF pensions cost the french taxpayer billions of euros each year. Be careful what you wish for....

Joel   12/03/2015 at 15:46

Many entrenched views but little or insufficient reference to facts, which is what we need. British Rail was woefully underfunded by all post-war governments, but the ownership was correct. The railways were at least intended for passenger benefit, even if they sometimes failed magnificently. And the government got its annual levy out of BR income no matter what the financial result was. Technologically and operationally, BR was among the best (indisputable) and many of its pioneering works were taken up and improved upon elsewhere because the railway here had neither the revenue nor the backing to develop further. BR fell down on its people skills and applications. Weak management and staff with poor pay/prospects unless your face fitted. Skill was a secondary aspect in many non-sharp end roles. But that was endemic across the UK, no matter what industry you were in. My view is that the railways, like all transport, is an enabling mechanism, and while passengers should pay, the true beneficiaries get off lightly - the purpose at the other end of the journey, whose purpose and profit were enabled by the train service (the bus service too). Too many people only look at their pet picture and forget the overall landscape.

Neil Palmer   19/03/2015 at 22:17

Rail Man, They are hardly given the rains, they have to make (high) lease payments on them. And as for making a killing, the average take for a TOC is 3%. You could pretty much take your money and invest it in a long term deposit or bonds and make that. Sometimes I wonder why they bother for a measly 3%.

Bluetonic   09/10/2015 at 21:04

Slight change of topic from the previous posts, but I really like the new livery. I see these trains running past my workplace every day and I have to say they look almost brand new. Much better than the shabby grey old East Coast paintjobs. Looking forward to seeing the new trains running in the future as well. As for the actual service, will wait and see when I next head to London for work in a couple of weeks.

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