Rail operator sets goal
Virgin challenges airlines on capital cities route
Vtec (Virgin Trains East Coast), a partnership with Stagecoach, has seen an 8% rise in customers which it attributes to discounted fares, more services and improved trains.
Since taking on the East Coast Rail franchise in May 2015 Virgin Trains says it has spent £140m in improving its service, overhauling its trains and adding 45 departures between London and Edinburgh every week to bring the service up to a rate of one every half an hour.
Its share of passengers against airlines has risen by 2 percentage points to nearly a third.
The operator is now targeting annual passenger traffic of 1.5m over seven years which it believes it can achieve with the help of a new fleet of trains from 2018.
The Japanese-designed Hitachi Azuma trains will have more seats and cut journey times by 30 minutes to four hours by 2020.
Overtaking the airlines will be a huge challenge and would require reversing a 40 year trend. British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair all offer flights between the capitals and Virgin will face further competition next year with the start of Flybe flights between Heathrow and Scotland.
Vtec managing director David Horne said: “We’ve set out ambitious plans to take on airlines by investing in our services and we’re delighted to see that strategy bearing fruit.
“The growth in rail travel shows the improvements we’ve made have been popular with customers, who are voting with their feet.
“That’s good news for passengers, good news for the environment and good for the long-terms growth of rail between Scotland and England.”
Transport minister Humza Yousaf said: “It is clear, given the huge numbers of passengers now travelling on Virgin East Coast, that cross-Border rail services are more popular than ever, with demand growing year on year.
“Virgin are also offering increased frequency and journey time improvements and we will no doubt see the popularity of rail continue.”