Virgin Trains posts passenger number record for West Coast route as it eyes HS2 franchise

Rebecca Smith
Virgin said its Glasgow-London numbers were back on track after flood forced the route's closure last year
Virgin said its Glasgow-London numbers were back on track after flood forced the route's closure last year (Source: Virgin)

Virgin Trains' West Coast route has bounced back with record passenger numbers crossing the border, a year after it was closed due to floods.

The intercity operator, which has run the West Coast route for 20 years, posted new figures of a record 294,000 customers travelling between Glasgow and London over a 24-week period to 31 March. It marked a 28 per cent rise on the same period two years ago.

The operator will hope its figures serve as a boost to its credentials for the new rail franchise announced by the government that will combine the current intercity West Coast services with the development and introduction of HS2 services.

‚ÄčRead more: Bidders assemble: Details released for new HS2 and West Coast franchise

The new franchise, West Coast Partnership, will be responsible for services on both the West Coast main line from 2019, and designing and running the initial high speed services from 2026. It will run for the first three to five years of operation of HS2.

Patrick McCall, co-chairman of Virgin Trains, said of the announcement at the end of last year: “There are clearly huge advantages in having continuity of service during HS2’s critical enabling works – both up to the start of the new franchise in 2019 and beyond."

Virgin said the rebound in passenger numbers on its West Coast route has coincided with punctuality reaching its highest level since privatisation. The number of Virgin Trains arriving on time has increased by eight percentage points to 89 per cent over the past 20 years.

An increase in availability of £30 fares between Glasgow and the capital was cited as a main reason why customers were plumping for the train over a plane for the route.

At the start of last year, the West Coast Main Line was closed to all cross-border trains for seven weeks when significant rainfall eroded the supporting structure of Lamington Viaduct near Abington.

Read more: New franchise will combine HS2 with Inter City West Coast services

Anna Doran, Virgin Trains’ general manager for Anglo-Scottish services, said:

The closure of our West Coast route at Lamington on New Year’s Eve last year was a blow but we’ve worked really hard to get our service back on track.

Service innovations such as Beam, improved punctuality and more low fares have helped drive strong customer satisfaction ratings and attract more people to rail.

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