Virgin Trains has been given permission to increase capacity by nearly a third by introducing 42 new services a week between Edinburgh and London. From May there will be an additional 22,000 seats a week on the route.
Customers travelling between the capitals will see four new services daily in each direction from May 16, ensuring a half-hourly frequency throughout most of the day. Two additional services will be added on Sundays.
Tickets for the new services will go on sale later this week after the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) approved Virgin Trains’ timetable plans.
As part of the launch, Virgin Trains is releasing thousands of £25 Edinburgh-London fares (in each direction) for the new timetable, which will see 25 southbound services per weekday from Edinburgh. These will be on sale for two weeks from this Friday (19th).
The firm is also extending the booking horizon during which it is possible to book tickets from the industry standard of 12 weeks to 24 weeks, making it easier to plan ahead for holidays, visits and other trips.
The move has been welcomed by the UK and Scottish governments’ respective transport ministers.
UK Rail Minister Claire Perry said: “This is welcome news for passengers travelling between Edinburgh and London and demonstrates that Virgin Trains are delivering on their commitment to bring extra services and seats to this important route. The UK government knows how important the railways are to keeping Britain connected, which is why we are investing over £38 billion on the network in this parliament. The increase to Scottish services is evidence that this franchise is delivering real improvements for passengers.”
Derek Mackay, Scottish Government Minister for Transport and Islands, said: “This increased frequency of cross-border Virgin services between Edinburgh and London is good news, giving passengers more choice of services and helping to spread the pressure on existing services. I welcome these enhanced timetables, the greater connectivity they offer between Scotland and the south east of England and the benefits that they will bring to the rail passenger experience and economies of locations along the route.”
David Horne, Virgin Trains’ Managing Director on the east coast route, 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.”
More than a million people travel on Virgin Trains’ Edinburgh-London services per year and the route already enjoys a half-hourly frequency at peak times.
The timetable boost comes after Virgin Trains took over the East Coast franchise in March last year, promising to drive up standards and attract more people to rail.
However passenger satisfaction has decreased since Virgin took over the service.
The East Coast Main Line was previously run by the Department of Transport between 2009 and Spring 2015, when Virgin Trains East Coast took over management of the line. Under Department of Transport management, the line achieved a 94 per cent satisfaction rating from customers. This fell to 89 per cent in the first National Rail Passenger Survey after the line was privatised.
Virgin Trains hopes the timetable boost will lead to an upsurge in cross-border travel. As well as the increase to capacity, the fleet is undergoing a £21m refurbishment.
Said David Horne: “Feedback on our new train interiors has been incredibly positive and customers are telling us they love the fresh, new look.”