Virgin CrossCountry
Franchise(s)InterCity CrossCountry
6 January 1997 – 10 November 2007
Main route(s)Southern England/London Paddington and South West England/South East Wales – Midlands – Northern England and Scotland
Fleet size34 Voyager and 44 Super Voyager sets
Parent companyVirgin Group (51%)
Stagecoach (49%)
Reporting markVXC

Virgin CrossCountry[1] was a train operating company in the United Kingdom operating the InterCity CrossCountry passenger franchise from January 1997 until November 2007. Virgin CrossCountry operated some of the longest direct rail services in the United Kingdom but most avoided Greater London after 2003. All services called or terminated at Birmingham New Street.

The company traded under the Virgin Trains brand, along with the InterCity West Coast[2] franchise, however the two franchises were operated by separate legal entities.


Mark 2 carriage at Banbury in 2001

Virgin Rail Group was awarded the InterCity CrossCountry franchise in November 1996, with operations commencing on 5 January 1997.[3] Services were operated by a wholly owned subsidiary, CrossCountry Trains Limited.[4]

In October 1998, Virgin Group sold 49% of the shares in Virgin Rail Group to Stagecoach.[5]

In the wake of the collapse of Railtrack and the inability of Network Rail to deliver on the 140 mph West Coast Main Line upgrade, both the Virgin CrossCountry and Virgin West Coast franchises were suspended in favour of management contracts in July 2002.[6][7][full citation needed][8][full citation needed]

In September 2006 the Department for Transport announced the shortlist for the New CrossCountry franchise with Virgin Rail Group included.[9] On 10 July 2007 the Department for Transport awarded the new CrossCountry franchise to Arriva with the services operated by Virgin CrossCountry transferring to CrossCountry on 11 November 2007.[10]


In May 1998 Virgin introduced new services from Portsmouth Harbour to Liverpool Lime Street and Blackpool North. The Summer Saturday service to Ramsgate ran for the last time in September 1999.[11] The Summer Saturday services to Weymouth ran for the last time in September 2002.[12]

Operation Princess

In September 2002 Virgin Trains launched Operation Princess. This involved introducing a new clockface timetable with shorter trains running more frequently. However the new fleet suffered from a number of technical faults which coupled with infrastructure and capacity issues led to many problems.[13][14] Between September 2002 and January 2003 punctuality fell to 54.1%,[15] it was therefore agreed with the Strategic Rail Authority that certain services would be cut to improve reliability and robustness on the core network.[16]

When Operation Princess was launched in September 2002, Virgin CrossCountry served these destinations:

Code Route Fate
VT0 Birmingham New Street to Swindon via Cheltenham Withdrawn summer 2003[17]
VT1 Glasgow Central, Edinburgh Waverley & Blackpool North through Birmingham New Street to South West of England Blackpool North withdrawn summer 2003[17]
VT2 Aberdeen, Edinburgh Waverley & Newcastle through Manchester Piccadilly and Birmingham New Street to Poole Services west of Bournemouth withdrawn summer 2003[17]
VT3 Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester Airport, through Birmingham New Street to London Paddington, Portsmouth and Brighton Portsmouth and London Paddington withdrawn summer 2003, reduced frequency to Brighton, all Liverpool Lime Street withdrawn winter 2003[17][18]
VT4 Aberdeen and Edinburgh Waverley through Birmingham New Street to Cardiff, Swansea, Paignton and Penzance Services west of Cardiff withdrawn summer 2003[17]

Project Omega

Project Omega was a project which would have seen a series of improvements following the West Coast modernisation.[19] This included Virgin CrossCountry running services from London Kings Cross to Teesside via Nottingham and York and another service from Portsmouth Harbour to Nottingham via Feltham for Heathrow. These services would have been run by the Class 220. The project also involved extending Virgin's West Coast and CrossCountry franchises by 5 years (both originally planned to end in 2012, so would have been 2017) as well as adding a fifth car to 38 Voyagers.

By the time Virgin Trains lost the CrossCountry franchise bid to Arriva in 2007 the network consisted of only the following routes:

Code Route
VT1 South West of England through Birmingham to the North West and Scotland
VT2 South Coast through Birmingham to the North of England and Scotland
VT3 South West of England and South East Wales through Birmingham to the North East of England and Scotland

Rolling stock

43093 Lady in Red in Virgin Cross/Country livery at Preston

Virgin CrossCountry inherited a fleet of Class 47 and Class 86 locomotives, Mark 2 Carriages, High Speed Trains and Class 158 Express Sprinter diesel multiple units from British Rail. Class 47s on hire from English Welsh & Scottish and Fragonset were also fairly common.

A franchise commitment was the replacement of these trains with new stock. In December 1998 Virgin signed a deal to lease 78 Voyager diesel–electric multiple units built by Bombardier Transportation, consisting of 34 four-carriage Class 220 Voyagers and 40 five-carriage and four four-carriage Class 221 Super Voyagers.[20] The Super Voyagers were built with tilting mechanisms to enable higher speeds on curved tracks, including on the West Coast Main Line and between Oxford and Banbury.[21] The four-carriage Super Voyagers were intended for use by Virgin West Coast on services from London Euston to Holyhead, although they ended up being pooled with the other Voyagers. When Virgin West Coast started using Super Voyagers on Holyhead services in September 2004, the five-carriage units were used.

The first Class 220 Voyager arrived from Belgium in January 2001 and entered service on 21 May 2001.[22] The last Class 47s, Class 86s and Mark 2 carriages were withdrawn in August 2002, while the Express Sprinters were transferred to Wessex Trains and First TransPennine Express.

After experiencing rapid growth Virgin CrossCountry decided to retain some High Speed Train sets. In December 2001 it announced plans to refurbish eight HSTs as Virgin Challengers for use on proposed services from London Paddington to Manchester Piccadilly via Cheltenham, with the option to refurbish more.[23] In the wake of the collapse of Operation Princess,[24] the project was cancelled with the remaining HSTs withdrawn in September 2003 on the instruction of the Strategic Rail Authority.[25]

To provide extra stock for services on summer Saturday services to Paignton and Newquay, Virgin CrossCountry hired HSTs from Virgin West Coast, Midland Mainline and Great North Eastern Railway (GNER),[26] and Mark 3B loco-hauled carriages from Virgin West Coast. In 2004 Virgin hired Class 67 locomotives from EWS and Mark 2 carriages from Riviera Trains to operate summer Saturday services to Paignton.[27]

A standby set of Mark 2 carriages was leased from Riviera Trains from September 2004.[28] This set was usually used with an EWS Class 90 locomotive between Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly, although it did run to Newcastle with a Class 57/3 in January 2007.

HSTs were hired from Midland Mainline and GNER on a number of occasions to operate services from Edinburgh Waverley to Plymouth when Voyagers were unavailable.

Original fleet

Class Image Type Built Withdrawn Notes
Class 43 Diesel locomotive 1976–1982 2003 Operated with Mark 3 carriages.
Class 47 Diesel locomotive 1962–1968 2002 Operated with Mark 2 carriages. Some of these were rebuilt as Class 57/3 locomotives.
Class 86 Electric locomotive 1965–1966 2002 Operated with Mark 2 carriages.
Class 158 Express Sprinter DMU 1989–1992 2003
Mark 2 carriage Passenger carriage 1964–1975 2002 Operated with Class 47 and 86 locomotives.
Mark 3 carriage Passenger carriage 1975–1982 2003 Operated with Class 43 locomotives.

Final fleet

Class Image Type Top speed Built Number
mph km/h
Class 220 Voyager DEMU 125 200 2000–2001 34
Class 221 Super Voyager DEMU 125 200 2001–2002 44

Planned fleet (never built)

Class Image Type Built Number Information
Class 255 Virgin Challenger DMU 2002 (planned refurbishment) 14 (planned) Planned refurbishment of the High Speed Train to be used on services between Blackpool, Manchester and Birmingham, and Paddington to Birmingham via Swindon. These plans came to naught as the Strategic Rail Authority planned to transfer most of the stock to Midland Mainline for their London-Manchester 'Rio' services.[29]

See also


  1. ^ Companies House extract company no 3007937 Archived 17 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine CrossCountry Trains Limited
  2. ^ Companies House extract company no 3007940 Archived 14 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine West Coast Trains Limited
  3. ^ Virgin to run CrossCountry trains Archived 7 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine The Independent 14 November 1996
  4. ^ "CROSSCOUNTRY TRAINS LIMITED". Companies House. Archived from the original on 14 April 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  5. ^ Virgin passengers get better deal Archived 3 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine BBC News 7 October 1998
  6. ^ Virgin Rail Group Interim Agreement Archived 7 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine House of Commons Select Committee on Transport
  7. ^ Rail Magazine. No. 494. 18 August 2004. p. 6. ((cite magazine)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ The Railway Magazine. No. 1242. October 2004. p. 4. ((cite magazine)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ New Cross Country Franchise Specification Issued Archived 4 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine Virgin Trains Press Release 31 October 2006
  10. ^ Department for Transport announces winner of New Cross Country franchise Department for Transport Press Release 10 July 2007
  11. ^ 1999 – 2000 Back over the S&C Archived 7 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Rail Magazine Issue 462 28 May 2003 p. 53
  13. ^ Simon Montague (19 November 2002). "Virgin's catalogue of misfortune". BBC News. Archived from the original on 30 July 2004. Retrieved 15 November 2007.
  14. ^ Virgin forced to replace new trains with old Archived 20 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine The Telegraph 1 December 2002
  15. ^ Page 8 Virgin CrossCountry Fact File
  16. ^ Informed Sources January 2003 Archived 21 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine Alycidon
  17. ^ a b c d e VT3 timetable 2003
  18. ^ VT2 timetable 2005
  19. ^ RAIL issue 840 p.92
  20. ^ From Dream to Reality Archived 16 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine The Locomotive & Carriage Institution 5 November 2002
  21. ^ Rail Magazine Issue 447 30 October 2002 Page 11
  22. ^ Rail Magazine Issue 425 26 December 2001 p. 36
  23. ^ Rail Magazine Issue 425 26 December 2001 Page 10
  24. ^ "Select Committee on Transport Fourth Report". UK Parliament. Archived from the original on 5 September 2017. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  25. ^ Privatisation 1993–2005 Archived 30 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine 125 Group
  26. ^ The High Speed Train Archived 30 July 2017 at the Wayback Machine Taunton Trains
  27. ^ History Archived 29 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine Riviera Trains
  28. ^ Rail Magazine Issue 496 15 September 2004 p. 7
  29. ^ Privatisation 1993 – 2005 Archived 30 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine – 125 Group

Media related to Virgin CrossCountry at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded byInterCityAs part of British Rail Operator of InterCity CrossCountry franchise 1997–2007 Succeeded byCrossCountryNew CrossCountry franchise