London to Birmingham in under 60 minutes by rail?

20 May 2009 by Tom Otley

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has outlined his 2020 vision for the West Coast Main Line operated by Virgin Trains.

His proposals include:

  • Journey times of under 60 minutes between London and Birmingham

  • Construction of an underground extension to Birmingham International station with a direct link from there to the West Coast Main Line at Lichfield using the existing M6 corridor

  • Journey times of under 4 hours between London and Glasgow

  • Link the West Coast Main Line at its southern end with both Heathrow and HS1 to Europe

  • Modern stations

Sir Richard believes this is possible if the Department of Transport awards rail franchises for between 20 and 30 years rather than the current 7-10 years to “bridge the gap between franchise length and asset life to reflect the whole life benefits of investments.”

“We are running 21st century high-speed trains through 19th century stations,” said Branson. “Crewe, Preston and Carlisle are basically great Victorian buildings crumbling away. We need to have 21st century stations. We would like the new franchises to be given control of stations so that the train operators can be incentivised to modernise them.”

A change to the franchise terms would “…give train operators the opportunity to invest, grow the rail business and lessen the burden on taxpayers.” said Branson. “With a £1bn investment we could, within 3 to 5 years, see our trains running at 140mph with reductions in journey times between London and all West Coast destinations.

For more information visit

Report by Tom Otley

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