This article my experience about my last trip on Virgin Trains in debranded trains, quick opinion about my overall experience Virgin Trains over the years and what I know about their future.
Bullet points as key points to take away
- The last trip was a bit soulless due to debranding.
- I had a great experience with Virgin Trains over time.
- Virgin Trains doesn’t run any services in the UK at the moment.
- Virgin Trains running services as “brightline” (Virgin Trains USA)
- Virgin Trains may back to the UK from 2021 as open access operator.
Virgin Trains cease to exists on 8 December 2019 and replaced by Avanti West Coast. On the last day of the service, I decided to have a return trip trains and reflect on my experience with Virgin Trains over the years in this blog post.
Let’s start from lighting fast history of Virgin Trains.
In 1997, Virgin Trains was awarded to run two franchises (later changed to contracts) West Coast and Virgin Cross Country. Virgin CrossCountry was operated between 1997 and 2007 and lost bid to Arriva that runs CrossCountry since then. Virgin Trains also had a very short-lived contract to run East Coast from 2015 until 2018 (initially should be run until 2023 but terminated earlier as it was underperforming).
Virgin Trains West Coast history was action-packed as the original contract should finish in 2012. Virgin lost bidding to run the franchise, but the competition was cancelled due to flaws in the bidding process. While the “new process” was designing, Virgin trains got short-term extensions to run service. They keep extending until March 2020. In the middle of 2019, the decision was made to award the franchise to Avanti West Coast that started on 9.12’2019.
I decided to travel on the last day of Virgin Trains to experience travel with them for the last time. My idea was simple. The Virgin Trains operates two types of trains Pendolino ( British Class 390) and Super Voyager (British Class 221). I booked a return trip to Birmingham and back to enjoy travel on both of them.
I am from Poland where PKP’s fleet was ancient, so for me, experience travel on the Pendolino for the first time was astounding. I remember futuristic-looking train and experience of high speed and tilting.
I like Pendolino class for sleek looking, table light in first-class and titling, but I didn’t like the interior for Ivory colour of the plastic wall.
I am also a big fan of Super Voyager for a large window, titling and hard-working engine noise during travel. However, this is one of the disliked trains by enthusiasts.
How was my last trip?
The trip went smooth in both ways which were unusual as a few previous trips were for free due to delays :).
The first thing I have noticed is the Virgin Trains brand disappeared from almost everywhere. I found the brand logo on the ticket machine, staff uniform and map. Sadly trains were stripped from all branding already.
As a result, the trains were brandless, and it feels soulless. It means my one of my idea to do a picture of VT brands and collect souvenirs failed.
I like both Pendolino and Super Voyagers, but when West Coast franchise was in limbo, it had a negative effect on the interior as they look worse and worse over time. The one thing I hate is ivory looking plastic wall. Trains look like they haven’t been taking care of it for some time now. They require a proper refurbishment.
The First-class experience was quite disappointing as it was minimal. Staff came once give coffee and food and .. they were gone. I have noticed that even the food menu was brandless too!
In comparison, my typical experience with VT was great.
The staff on the train and customer service was fantastic! They helped me on many occasions when I had a problem and even go the extra mile to helps people that were stuck at Euston when we arrive very late and book a taxi for everyone. Due to my mixed experience with FirstGroup owned companies, I expect this to get worse, but I don’t mind if I am wrong :). I talked to a serval staff about how they are feeling about company change. Most of them seem to don’t care at all and said that for it will just change their uniform. The one of them will miss Virgin Trains.
Another thing I like about Virgin Trains that always have lots of great features (WiFi, on-board radio, Beam app to watch entertainment). I praise them for these innovations and attempts to be unique.
I have a personal attachment to the brand because it plays an important role in my travelling life. Pendolino was the first high-speed train that I ever use and that experience. It was my first-class experience in the UK (and the second time in my life). The best thing about travel was… ability to drink beer(s), write code (or read a book), listen to great music and enjoy a great views from the window while cruising 200km/h on Pendolino during train tilting from time to time. For me, work on this kind of train will be a fantastic office.
It means Virgin Trains is no more or is it?
Well, Virgin Trains started to operate in USA.
Virgin Trains also applied to ORR to run service between London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street as an open access operator. If ORR agrees, which I doubt as they always reject their ideas, it will start running from 2021. They promised at least 10% cheaper tickets that competitors, mandatory seat reservation(with a refund for people who are standing), on-demand catering plus usual perks.
Meanwhile, I am looking forward to what changes Avanti brings to the west coast.
Abbreviations and Definitions
- open-access operator – It is a company that running trai on commercial only basis that is “running on infrastructure owned by a third party and buying paths on an agreed route”. Source: Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-access_operator
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