Today marks the end of an era as Virgin Trains disappears from the UK’s rail tracks after travelling them for the last 22 years.
Virgin Trains, Britain’s longest-running rail franchise is coming to an end and will be replaced by Avanti West Coast, a new train operator owned by the First Group and Trenitalia. Virgin Trains services will end on Saturday night, before the takeover of Avanti West Coast on Sunday, 8 December.
The Virgin Trains franchise was a partnership between Virgin Group and Stagecoach and had been running since 1997. However, it had its bid to continue operating the line blocked by the Department for Transport due to a row over pensions.
Virgin Trains has run services on the West Coast Main Line since 1997, in which time around 500 million journeys are thought to have been completed.
Virgin Trains will still exist in the United States, including in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Tickets purchased for beyond 7 December in the UK will be valid on Avanti West Coast. The staff of Virgin Trains in the UK will move over to the new operator, Avanti West Coast. This is usually the case when franchises change, however, the management team at Virgin Trains will also move over to the new company, perhaps showing the extent of the success achieved by the company.
The new operator will bring new uniforms, new colours and new branding, but the service that Virgin Trains delivered is largely expected to remain the same. Virgin Trains has been described as ‘a lesson in how to run a railway successfully’ and there has been an outburst of support on social media for the company and its staff both from the public and from fellow train-operators.
Virgin Trains became the first operator to start selling tickets online and over the phone in 1998 and became the first train operator to introduce Automatic Delay Repay in 2015. In 2019, Virgin Trains was rated as the best train franchise in the National Passenger Survey.
It’s the end of the line for journeys on Virgin Trains here in the UK, but it seems likely that the operator’s 22 years of service will live long in the memory of those who greatly enjoyed their travels with Virgin Trains.