Rail travel: Take the low road

12 Dec 2013 by Alex McWhirter
Virgin Trains pendolino

Alex McWhirter ponders a much-needed increase in capacity on Anglo-Scottish rail services

There was good news for Anglo-Scottish rail passengers this winter.

From December 8, Virgin Trains has been providing a much-needed increase in capacity, adding an extra 3,300 seats in each direction between Glasgow, Edinburgh and London Euston via the West Coast line. What it means is that 24 of the 28 trains that currently run between Scotland and Birmingham will continue on to London Euston.

The combined total of 3,300 seats covers trains from both Scottish cities. But Edinburgh comes off best because the number of through-trains rises from one to seven.

Trains comprise either ten-coach Super Voyager diesel trains or nine- or 11-coach Pendolino electrics. Virgin Trains says the number of Anglo-Scottish weekday seats on offer will have risen from 17,000 in December 2008 to 30,000 in December 2013.

It’s good news because a rising demand for Anglo-Scottish rail travel caused by keener pricing means that existing services are very popular at busy times of the year.

Why can’t East Coast run extra trains? It would seem to be an obvious question, but its current diesel and electric sets are already being used to their maximum.

New train sets are on order with a greater seating capacity but the earliest they would enter service would be 2019 when it is expected that a new franchisee would be in charge.

Business leaders have welcomed the news. David Birrell, chief executive of Edinburgh’s chamber of commerce, said: “We are delighted that Virgin Trains is adding this capacity. These additional seats will hopefully stimulate the business and employment opportunities.”

Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow’s chamber of commerce, added: “This is an extremely positive step and one we firmly endorse.”

But everything in the garden isn’t rosy. The new Virgin services will boost links between Edinburgh, Glasgow, the West Midlands and London. But passengers travelling to and from London must allow for a longer journey time as the extra services run via Birmingham. This means a typical journey time of five hours 40 minutes from Edinburgh, and five hours 30 minutes from Glasgow, roughly an hour longer than taking the normal ECML or West Coast Main Line route.

On the other hand, the extra capacity will make it easier for passengers to secure seats and should make prices keener.

But, remember, that if travelling between London and Edinburgh or vice versa, make sure to shop around for the best prices, and make sure to consider all the options before booking.

Read our contributor biography of Alex McWhirter


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