|National Rail abbreviation VXC|
|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 size 34 Voyager and 44 Super Voyager sets
Parent company Virgin Group (51%) Stagecoach (49%)
Virgin CrossCountry was a train operating company in the United Kingdom operating the InterCity CrossCountry 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 franchise, however the two franchises were operated by separate legal entities.
Virgin Rail Group was awarded the InterCity CrossCountry franchise in November 1996 with operations commencing on 5 January 1997.
In October 1998 Virgin Group sold 49% of the shares in Virgin Rail Group to Stagecoach.
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.
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. The Summer Saturday services to Weymouth ran for the last time in September 2002.
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. Between September 2002 and January 2003 punctuality fell to 54.1%, it was therefore agreed with the Strategic Rail Authority that certain services would be cut to improve reliability and robustness on the core network.
When Operation Princess was launched in September 2002, Virgin CrossCountry served these destinations:
By the time Virgin Trains lost the CrossCountry franchise bid to Arriva in 2007 the network consisted of only the following routes:
Virgin inherited a fleet of Class 47s, Class 86s, Mark 2 Carriages, High Speed Trains and Class 158s 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 34 four-carriage Class 220 Voyagers and 40 five-carriage and four four-carriage Class 221 Super Voyagers built by Bombardier Transportation. The latter 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 Class 221 Super Voyagers on Holyhead services in September 2004, the five-carriage units were used.
The Class 221 Super Voyagers were fitted with equipment allowing them to tilt between Oxford and Banbury and on the West Coast Main Line. The first Class 220 Voyager arrived from Belgium in January 2001 and entered service on 21 May 2001. The last Class 47s, Class 86s and Mark 2 carriages were withdrawn in August 2002.
After experiencing rapid growth Virgin CrossCountry decided to retain some High Speed Trains sets. In December 2001 it announced plans to refurbish eight High Speed Trains as Virgin Challengers for use on proposed services from London Paddington to Manchester Piccadilly via Cheltenham with the option to refurbish more. In the wake of the collapse of Operation Princess, the project was cancelled with the remaining HSTs withdrawn in September 2003 on the instruction of the Strategic Rail Authority.
To provide extra stock for services on Summer Saturday services to Paignton and Newquay, Virgin hired High Speed Trains from Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), Midland Mainline and Virgin West Coast and Mark 3B loco hauled carriages from Virgin West Coast. In 2004 Virgin hired Class 67s from English Welsh & Scottish and Mark 2 Carriages from Riviera Trains to operate Summer Saturday services to Paignton.
A standby set of Mark 2 carriages was leased from Riviera Trains from September 2004. It was usually used between Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly with an English Welsh & Scottish Class 90 although it did run to Newcastle with a Class 57/3 in January 2007.
High Speed Trains were hired from Midland Mainline and GNER on a number of occasions to operate services from Edinburgh Waverley to Plymouth when Voyagers were unavailable.
In September 2006 the Department for Transport announced the shortlist for the New CrossCountry franchise with Virgin Rail Group included. 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.