London’s King’s Cross station was awash with media from both the UK and Japan this morning (March 18th) as Sir Richard Branson breezed into town to launch the first of the fleet of new trains that he says will revolutionise travel on the East Coast rail route. The Japanese angle emphasised that the trains are being built by Japanese train builder Hitachi at it’s purpose-built manufacturing plant at Newton Aycliffe in the North East.
It will be another two years before the first of the trains enters service and they will be known as the Virgin Azuma. Azuma in Japanese translates as roughly as East and pays homage to the new train’s lineage. Improved acceleration, they will go from 0-125mpg 60 seconds quicker than the existing 225 train fleet, will cut journey times and Virgin says it is now working with Network Rail to enable their operation at 140mph on the east coast route.
Journey times of two hours London to Leeds and four hours between London and Edinburgh are set to become the norm.
Even without 140mph operation the fleet of 65 trains will provide an extra 12,000 seats for a new and expanded timetable increasing capacity into King’s Cross station by 28% during the busy peak period. New through trains from London to Middlesbrough and Huddersfield and more through trains to Lincoln and Harrogate are planned.
Sir Richard’s enthusiasm was evident at the launch, as was that of Virgin Trains East Coast Managing Director David Horne and Karen Boswell the Managing Director of Hitachi Rail Europe.
The train unveiled at King’s Cross will be used for testing and has received a special livery wrap. Virgin Trains Group Designer Sam Jessup designed the livery, which includes red areas that mimic flowing cloth, with the middle coach of the nine-coach train helping to change the flow of the graphic to each end of the train. Sam pointed out that the livery on the launch train is a one-off and that he would now be working on the livery for the main fleet, although it would be surprising if their wasn’t a ‘family feel’ to the launch train livery.
Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, said: “The state-of-the-art Intercity Express trains heading to Virgin will transform rail travel for passengers between London, the north east and Scotland. These new trains, combined with Virgin’s exciting plans for the franchise, will provide more services, more seats, and faster journeys, helping to place passengers at the heart of the railway.”
Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said, “This is a hugely important moment for passengers on the East Coast. A line which has witnessed the historic Flying Scotsman and Mallard will now see passenger services transformed with the UK’s most advanced long distance trains. Our customers on the West Coast have already seen what Virgin can bring to train travel and how the Pendolinos have made a huge difference to speed and comfort. Our new fleet of Azumas will bring a similar transformation to the East Coast, and propel one of the UK’s most prestigious lines into the 21st century.”
David Horne, Managing Director of Virgin Trains on the East Coast, said, “Since Virgin Trains launched services on the East Coast in 2015 we have committed more than £40m to improving our existing fleet for passengers. As part of this we’re bringing in brand new interiors with new seats in both first and standard, new carpets and mood-lighting – a first for trains in the UK. I’m delighted that today we have been able to showcase how that transformation will continue, with the first of our brand-new Azumas alongside one of our existing spruced-up fleet. We’ve already celebrated the return of the restored Flying Scotsman to the route and now we are able to celebrate the stars of tomorrow, count down to 2018, and usher in a new era for the East Coast.”
Karen Boswell, Managing Director of Hitachi Rail Europe, said, “Hitachi has a long and proud heritage producing top quality, high-speed trains, going back to 1964 when our first ‘Bullet Train’ entered passenger service in Japan. We are, therefore, thrilled to be delivering the trains which from 2018 will transform the journey experience for tens of thousands of Virgin Trains customers traveling between London and Scotland along the East Coast. We are doubly proud that these new trains for the East Coast are being manufactured right here in the UK, creating some 730 new long-term jobs, engineering careers and apprenticeships.
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.