Virgin Trains West Coast - London to Scotland via Birmingham - A Complete Failure?

Discussion in 'UK Railway Discussion' started by All Line Rover, 25 May 2015.

  1. All Line Rover

    All Line Rover Established Member

    Messages:
    4,820
    Joined:
    17 Feb 2011
    In December 2013 Virgin Trains joined the hourly London to Wolverhampton service with the hourly Birmingham to Scotland service. I understand that the main reason behind the change was to ensure that the busy Birmingham to Scotland services were all Pendolinos or double-Voyagers (and this was the only way to achieve this, given that - obviously - there couldn't possibly be investment in additional rolling stock).

    Virgin Trains described the change as introducing "new, hourly services direct from Coventry, Birmingham International and Sandwell & Dudley through to North West England and Scotland." This is a half-truth, as although these journeys can now be made on direct services, they are far from "new" services.

    The benefits of having direct services are that:

    • passengers going north from Sandwell & Dudley can depart 11 minutes later - xx:24 instead of xx:13 (changing at Wolverhampton)
    • passengers going north from Birmingham International can depart 7 minutes later - xx:53 instead of xx:46 (changing at New Street)
    • passengers going north from Coventry can depart 12 minutes later - xx:42 instead of xx:30 (changing at New Street)
    None of these would I consider to be significant improvements. Passengers from Milton Keynes don't benefit at all because it is still quicker to catch a service to Chester (via the Trent Valley) and change at Crewe.

    Now for the downsides:

    1. Single Voyagers on Birmingham to London services (and vice versa) resulting in gross overcrowding.

    [​IMG]

    Have a look at this article from two days ago: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/bbc-stars-fury-144-train-9316736. The person complaining had purchased a First Class ticket and the photograph is of the single First Class carriage on Virgin's "Super" Voyager trains.

    How could Virgin Trains possibly consider a 5 car train with a single First Class carriage to be sufficient on a route where there is traditionally a 9 car train with four First Class carriages every 20 minutes, and even that was found to be insufficient given the eventual extension of many of these trains to 11 cars? How is reduced crowding between Birmingham and Scotland an improvement if it results in extreme crowding between Birmingham and London? It's not an improvement. It's a swap!

    Even though the Birmingham Mail article was reporting on a bank holiday train, the overcrowding on Voyagers between Birmingham and London is regular. The 09:50 Birmingham to Euston service, which is the first off-peak service for passengers from Rugby (other than one extremely early morning service), is a 5 car Voyager!

    2. Lengthier journey times for journeys from the North West to Birmingham New Street.

    Pre-VHF (Very High Frequency - the Virgin Trains timetable launched on 14 December 2008) the journey time from Warrington to Birmingham was as short as 73 minutes. Following VHF it was 76 minutes (slightly longer, but at hourly intervals). Since December 2013 it has been 86 minutes, with a tedious dwell time in Wolverhampton of 12 minutes. So a decade later, the journey time is 13 minutes longer than in 2005! What is the point of all that investment in 125mph rolling stock and line speed improvements, if it is faster to travel between Crewe and Birmingham with London Midland!?

    3. Only one train every hour between Birmingham and Wolverhampton (and vice versa) instead of two.

    Prior to December 2013 there were two Virgin trains an hour between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, separated by 25 minutes northbound and 15 minutes southbound. Now there is only one. I'd hardly describe that as an improvement.

    4. Significantly worse reliability between Birmingham and London.

    Reliability between Scotland and Birmingham is embarrassingly bad, even with the 12 minute dwell (or "recovery") time at Wolverhampton. This has a knock-on effect on reliability between Birmingham and London, with the service from Scotland being timed to depart Birmingham at xx:10. As Virgin Trains (to their credit) isn't quick to cancel services, this has an additional knock-on effect on the reliability of the xx:30 Birmingham to London services.

    5. Poorer service between Milton Keynes and London.

    Now that the xx:30 Birmingham to London services call at Watford Junction instead of Milton Keynes Central, all three of the hourly southbound Virgin Trains services from Milton Keynes to London depart in the space of 16 minutes.

    Does anyone else have experience of travelling with Virgin Trains on this route? Does anyone have anything positive to say about the changes?
     
  2. QueensCurve

    QueensCurve Established Member

    Messages:
    1,532
    Joined:
    22 Dec 2014
    Thank you for presenting the downside (if you pardon the expression) of this change.

    As one of those from more northerly parts I have found the introduction of Pendolini on the Birmingham to Scotland part of the service a benefit.
     
  3. Blindtraveler

    Blindtraveler Established Member

    Messages:
    7,687
    Joined:
    28 Feb 2011
    Location:
    Nowhere near enough to a Pacer :(
    I thik the OP is being a little overnegative. Whilst I admit the 5 car BamLondons and some of the late running north of WVH are regretable, it has been a masive improvement for pax on the North WCML and whilst Im aware that MKC has got a pritty poor deal there are plenty of other service to London, same for Birmingham really given how good Chilton is these days!

    There was a lot of problems on the Scotland to Northwest flows previously with trains wedged on departure from Edinburgh or Glasgow and things not getting any better till as far south as Crewe on many trains. Furthermore, the through services are cheep till quite late on if your just going 1 way or want to avoid the ECML and dont mind a slightly longer journey.
     
  4. SS4

    SS4 Established Member

    Messages:
    8,262
    Joined:
    30 Jan 2011
    Location:
    Birmingham
    Virgin's response in the article disgusted me.

    I may be reading too much into this but I see an implication that the railway should simply do away with walk-up tickets and only accept advance bookings. No doubt this would make things easier for Virgin but perhaps they should have to work for their money? They can release fewer advance tickets (on a bank holiday weekend) and I doubt that this was an emergency unit subbed in so at least the service would run.

    From a personal standpoint I don't bother travelling with Virgin when I'm going to London any more: Chiltern and LM both offer better stock without the personal space invader making a better ambience.

    Last time I went to London with VT the unit was a double voyager and first class was that rammed it was better to sit in standard. My seat was unreserved so I let the TM know so they could let someone sit down and they were kind enough to offer me a complimentary tea. A much better journey in the frontmost carriage of standard.
     
  5. dvboy

    dvboy Established Member

    Messages:
    1,826
    Joined:
    6 Sep 2011
    Location:
    Birmingham
    Agree with you on point 3 - the 1657, 1757 and 1857 XC departures from Birmingham New Street to Manchester are now even more crowded with Wolverhampton commuters than they were before, because we no longer have the x:50 Pendolino taking them home.

    However, the 17:20, 18:20 (now x:15) service to Scotland used to always be a very crowded Voyager before the change, so this is an improvement in capacity since it's usually an 11 car Pendolino now (I say usually, it is sometimes subbed for a 9, and on Friday just gone was a Voyager!).

    You say it's one an hour, but there are three other operators between Wolves and Birmingham, and according to Centro it's still the highest frequency line in the West Midlands. I find the front of the Liverpool trains the best ones for the chance of getting a seat in the evening peak, or if you take the stopping service it's half empty by Sandwell & Dudley.

    Anyway, the main problem is that because they're sending Pendos north of Birmingham more often now, the knock on effect is more Voyagers going to Euston. They're converting a coach from First to Standard on the Pendos, but this won't help the Voyagers.

    If a Southbound services is running late enough, a spare Voyager will often restart the journey on time at Wolves - this contingency is built into the timetable. Obviously it takes time to then get the Pendo back on the diagram that it's been replaced by, and some days it won't happen so there's a Voyager in place of a Pendo until end of service.

    Can't do the same Northbound; there isn't the slack in the timetable either.

    The dwell time at Wolves is to avoid blocking a platform at Birmingham for the same amount of time instead, as the service is in the same paths it was before it was split.

    Also from Wolves we have lost our direct service to Watford Junction as the Euston train calls at Milton Keynes instead - swings and roundabouts on that one.

    As for the Birmingham Mail article - the passenger had a reservation but decided there were too many people around for him to be able to get to his seat - this may well be true, but it wasn't an Advance, so nothing stopping him getting the next train 20 minutes later, and he'll at least be compensated for his reservation not being honoured.

    Virgin say they can't stop overcrowding while we have a turn up and go railway, but they have restricted trains to Reservations Only in the past.
     
    Last edited: 25 May 2015
  6. els

    els Member

    Messages:
    42
    Joined:
    27 May 2011
    Of course, he could have just a waited 20 minutes for a (pendolino) first class seat if he didn't want to mix with the proles.
     
  7. asylumxl

    asylumxl Established Member

    Messages:
    4,252
    Joined:
    12 Feb 2009
    Location:
    Hiding in your shadow
    As the saying goes, you can't please all the people all of the time, and a balance has to be struck.

    Also, MK has plenty of services towards London, including some reasonably quick LM services. Is it really that much a huge inconvenience to lose one service?
     
  8. MidnightFlyer

    MidnightFlyer Veteran Member

    Messages:
    12,531
    Joined:
    16 May 2010
    This is my most frequently-used route these days. There are two things I take issue with:
    - The use of single Voyagers. The 0550 ex-Glasgow is one. I can remember it being one of the most oddly-quiet trains I've known before the rejigging, 0817 off Preston and you could easily get a two-seater to yourself. These days it's full and standing whenever I've used it, and absolutely mobbed by Wolves: I believe an extra Voyager goes on the front here, sadly that's too far out of the way for a lot of the new customers since it goes way out towards the end of the platform, and the existing Voyager ends up perfectly placed for both footbridges... I always check RTT these days and go for the 390 options, I dare not use the 221 services in case they're single sets.
    - Timekeeping. I can count on one hand the amount of services I've been on that keep time between Wolves and Crewe (it matters not a jot the other way, obviously), similarly the amount that are on time off New St northbound is oddly low despite a 10~ min dwell there, and after departing Wolves it's often worse. Of course I wouldn't mind too much if I didn't have an hourly sub-10 minute connection to get me back home. Often ends up being a 2 or 3 minute job.

    I don't mind the extended journey times too much since I enjoy travelling, but I can see why it riles others. The changes are terrific if you travel from Scotland to Preston or Crewe, I've been on some wonderfully-empty services off Glasgow over the past couple of years and it helps no end with the Edinburgh traffic on Thursdays, Fridays and the weekend; but less wonderful if you use the route at the southern end.
     
  9. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,779
    Joined:
    12 Oct 2010
    Location:
    Work - Fenny Stratford(MK) Home - Darlington
    yet another pointless whiny post

    1) God forbid a first class passeneger had to stand. Diddums. It also seems hehad a open ticket so no sympathy from me. Also from where shall Virgin extract stock to the comfort level required by the OP?

    2) A spotterish whine of no intrest to real people. The trains are often full, so the speed cant be the main pulling point

    3) There are lots of trains between Wolves and Brum.

    4) Not sure how Virgin are responsible for anything other than traction reliability.

    5) There are 1000000 trains an hour between MK and London. The fast LM services do the journey a few minutes behind the Virgin services. Yes it is silly to cram them all in one part of the hour but there are options

    I use these trains often as they are cheaper than the direct route via Crewe. Thats is the key for many and the increased DIRECT journey options rather than having to change.

    I honestly do not see the point of this post!
     
  10. dvboy

    dvboy Established Member

    Messages:
    1,826
    Joined:
    6 Sep 2011
    Location:
    Birmingham
    Yes, it forms the 0945 at Wolves - unfortunately this isn't well-advertised at Wolves despite the front portion sitting on the platform for at least half an hour before its departure (I've even seen the 0911 ATW re-platformed because the 0945 was already in its way). It really needs to be announced as "platform 3b" or include a "front train only" announcement to discourage people from boarding at the rear.
     
    Last edited: 25 May 2015
  11. snail

    snail Established Member

    Messages:
    1,729
    Joined:
    16 Jun 2011
    Location:
    t'North
    As another north WCML user the introduction of Pendolinos in place of Voyagers is a welcome improvement. As for the whingeing about 5-car units being full, welcome to the experience we had for years before this change. The difference is that travellers from the West Midlands have alternatives with LM and Chiltern which just aren't there in the north.
     
  12. LNW-GW Joint

    LNW-GW Joint Established Member

    Messages:
    10,184
    Joined:
    22 Feb 2011
    Location:
    Mold, Clwyd
    The new diagrams freed up 2 Voyagers which are used on the Shrewsbury and Blackpool services. No joining up, no service to SHR/BPN.
    There simply are not enough Voyagers for all trains to be 10-car.
    Personally I think VT are on to a winner with extra capacity on the majority of Birmingham-Scotland services, especially Edinburgh which had a rough deal before (2-hourly single Voyager replaced (mostly) by a 390 or 2x221).
    There are plenty on here who think 3tph London-Birmingham 390s is too much and a small capacity drop is no bad thing.
    In any case Virgin has to optimise what it has, as the DfT refused any extra stock in the direct award - instead forcing a coach in the 9-car 390s to be converted to standard as a sop to gain a small number of seats.
     
  13. 387star

    387star Established Member

    Messages:
    4,516
    Joined:
    16 Nov 2009
    I assumed the voyagers were double throughout

    Are the voyagers necessary to be diesel only for the north wales services ? What a waste also no gangway if connected means passengers cannot walk down do they know that?
     
  14. QueensCurve

    QueensCurve Established Member

    Messages:
    1,532
    Joined:
    22 Dec 2014
    Here we reflect the sad fact the railway industry has followed aviation in losing the distinction between "Direct" and "Through".

    These trains of course are "through" from Milton Keynes to Crewe and beyond while not in any true sense being "direct".
     
  15. deltic

    deltic Established Member

    Messages:
    1,533
    Joined:
    8 Feb 2010
    I travel regularly between Euston and New St both in first and standard and the services travelling on to or from Scotland have always been fairly empty at New St. When I have travelled on the occasonal single Voyagers they have tended to be very full.
     
  16. Starmill

    Starmill Established Member

    Messages:
    8,957
    Joined:
    18 May 2012
    Location:
    Manchester
    Can I ask what happened to the path that Virgin no longer use BHM <> WVH ? Is it now just 'white space'?
     
  17. The Planner

    The Planner Established Member

    Messages:
    7,792
    Joined:
    15 Apr 2008
    They used to be xx.45 off New St I think, in which case they are white space.
     
  18. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

    Messages:
    21,101
    Joined:
    20 Oct 2014
    Location:
    Up and down the south WCML (mostly)
    Yes. A direct service is provided between Milton Keynes Central and north of Crewe-Scotland, without the need to change at Crewe. This is valuable on its own. The removal of the overlap between International and Wolves has also meant that most trains have more capacity than they did, thus alleviating the serious overcrowding problem that previously existed on Brum-Scotland.

    If there are single Voyagers operating in the peak, they need either (a) MKC to be u/s, if that's causing the problem, or (b) the diagrams rejigging to avoid those particular services being an issue.

    Other than that I think it has been an excellent improvement and I hope it continues.

    As for MKC to London, VT do not provide the main service, so if their service happens to be less frequent, who cares? A local journey is quite rightly not VT's concern, though they do sell cheap tickets for anyone who will put up with the low effective frequency (you can always plan for one of the VTs, and the service is more spread out northbound). LM have added a fast service once an hour which compensates, in any case.
    --- old post above --- --- new post below ---
    Yes we do, because for "normal" passengers (and for me, when I have luggage) changing is a faff. The Chester/Crewe service is now an insurance if I miss the direct northbound, I rarely choose it.

    Not many. And "trains in being busy on Bank Holidays shocker"? This, while inconvenient, really is a non-story.

    I would suggest that either the Rugby stop should be removed from that, or some rediagramming should be done to avoid that specific problem train. Most trains are not causing a problem.

    As noted in my other posting, it is not VT's role to provide local services within PTE areas. If it happens that they do, great, but they should not need to plan to provide services that in many other countries would be outright barred to local passengers.

    The TOC tasked with providing Wolverhampton to Birmingham trains is London Midland.
     
    Last edited: 25 May 2015
  19. bengolding

    bengolding Member

    Messages:
    674
    Joined:
    31 Aug 2008
    One benefit of the through service is you can get terrific value First Advance fares on the Pendos, especially VWC+Connections.

    On the downside, if timekeeping is really bad southbound, Virgin often run the train fast from Crewe to MKC via the Trent Valley - great as it gains time, but not so good for the cancelled xx45 from Wolves. The 10:00 Glasgow-Euston is a single Voyager throughou which gets very cosy further south. Talking of which, last Fri Euston was announcing the 16:43 Edinburghas full and standing, being formed of only a single Voyager (as is the previous 16:23 New St). Luckily for MKC passengers, the 17:10 Holyhead double Voyager had a set down in place, where it is usually pick up only
     
  20. martinsh

    martinsh Established Member

    Messages:
    1,412
    Joined:
    27 Jan 2011
    Location:
    Slowly sipping Salopian Polygraph
    I use these services fairly frequently (about once a week). Mainly Crewe <> Wolves, but also northbound from Crewe on occasion.

    Must say that when I've used them they have almost always been either double voyagers or Pendolinos (and normally 11 coach Pendos as well). Obviously I'm not travelling at the right time for the single Voyagers !

    The long wait at Wolves southbounf is a pain, but doesn't really aggect mean because it's normally cheaper to rebook at Wolves anyway. I can't help thinking that they wouldn't have to tighten up the schedule much to be able to catch the previous VT path from Birmingham (i.e. xx50 not xx10).

    Agree with the comment about being unable to keep time between Wolves & Crewe - though often it's a few minutes late into Wolves anyway, due being help up by stopper.

    And it does seem that the amount of through traffic between MK / Coventry and places north of Wolves is very small.
     
  21. LNW-GW Joint

    LNW-GW Joint Established Member

    Messages:
    10,184
    Joined:
    22 Feb 2011
    Location:
    Mold, Clwyd
    I'm not sure about that.
    On southbound services you can see people at Preston choosing or being directed from full direct services to the following train via Brum.
    On the PIS it's just another train to Euston.
    The Edinburghs are particularly heavy loaders.
     
  22. RAPC

    RAPC Member

    Messages:
    139
    Joined:
    30 May 2010
    As another northern VT customer, I found the changes beneficial as well. The new timetable has served me well for my regular London work trips at least. The services through the West Midlands are usually a good source of cheaper 1st class tickets for starters, so although it is a longer journey, I can be a bit more productive on my journey and work within the limits of our work travel policy.
     
  23. Starmill

    Starmill Established Member

    Messages:
    8,957
    Joined:
    18 May 2012
    Location:
    Manchester
    Just to point out, yes it is often cheaper to take the 9xxx train via Birmingham to London from Preston, Wigan, Warrington or Crewe for cheaper 1st Advance quota, but the Birmingham New St - London Euston trains, of which there are 2 an hour regularly have the lowest tier of First Class available even right up to the day before travel. I mean, they are essentially 4 empty coaches otherwise :p
     
  24. hibtastic

    hibtastic Member

    Messages:
    177
    Joined:
    19 Oct 2014
    These services are great for me (being from Edinburgh) - I can get a direct train from Edinburgh to Birmingham International which is fantastic. Normally they are all Double Voyagers or Pendolini.

    The southbound services in the morning are extremely busy. On week the 0652 from Haymarket was a single voyager due to a unit failure at Craigentinny and what a nightmare it was. Jam packed at Carlisle. They eventually started directing people onto the Liverpool to London service at Crewe (so avoiding the West Midlands completely). Virgin did have an additional Voyager ready and waiting at Wolverhampton though which we joined up with (so the 12 minute wait was handy on this occasion).
     
  25. dvboy

    dvboy Established Member

    Messages:
    1,826
    Joined:
    6 Sep 2011
    Location:
    Birmingham
    xx:50 off New Street, and southbound xx:32 off Wolverhampton.

    https://pennnow.wordpress.com/2013/...verhampton-trains-in-december/comment-page-1/
     
  26. Clip

    Clip Established Member

    Messages:
    8,544
    Joined:
    28 Jun 2010
    Had a delightful trip down from Preston yesterday on a Pendolino on these services(It started there I think) and even though I was in coach A there wasn't that many in the coaches from there up to the shop but by god did it take its time- the only gripe I had with it really.
     
  27. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,779
    Joined:
    12 Oct 2010
    Location:
    Work - Fenny Stratford(MK) Home - Darlington
    that is also my only issue - via Wolves and Brum adds about 40 minutes to the journey between MK and the North West/Scotland.

    I believe the extra connectivity outweighs and issues.
     
  28. JonathanH

    JonathanH Established Member

    Messages:
    1,221
    Joined:
    29 May 2011
    Great, but in the later part of the evening, it is now only the xx10 from Birmingham that runs to Euston having come from Scotland and so there aren't as many cheap standard and first class fares as there used to be at that time.
     
  29. thealexweb

    thealexweb Member

    Messages:
    815
    Joined:
    5 Jan 2014
    The December 2013 timetable change was very controversial for me personally as it removed the direct link of Edinburgh Waverley to Bolton which I used regularly. Since then, I have started to look beyond First Transpennine Express and I am frequently finding myself using Virgin's services between Edinburgh and Wigan North Western.

    Prior to the December 2013 timetable change I used the route only once and it was a single Class 221. Since then, the service has improved massively with me always booking myself on to a Class 390. I would be very hostile to undoing the progress that has been made and would suggest going even further by giving London Euston a fast direct service to Edinburgh Waverley. Not much chance of that happening when both mainlines are controlled by the same two companies...
     
  30. dk1

    dk1 Established Member

    Messages:
    4,973
    Joined:
    2 Oct 2009
    Location:
    East Anglia
    It appears to have been a successful change for Virgin. There are a few negatives that are difficult to correct to would say they are far outweighed by the positives. Even the concern of delays at one end impacting on the other end of the route seem to have been much less than i feared.
     

Share This Page