Virgin Trains’ Scotland-London business booms

Virgin train crossing Royal Border Bridge at Berwick

Virgin Trains said it has witnessed an “historic shift” in travel patterns as more Scotland-London passengers “choose train over plane than at any time in more than 20 years.”

Latest figures reveal an 18% year-on-year growth in Virgin Trains passengers travelling between Glasgow/Edinburgh and London in June.

This gave Virgin Trains a 33% share of the air/rail market on the UK’s busiest domestic air routes, beating a previous record set in 2014.

Virgin Trains said the shift coincides with a new report that explores the environmental benefits of train over plane travel.

The report, undertaken by sustainable transport charity Transform Scotland, found that:

  • Overall air and rail travel between Scotland’s Central Belt and London is increasing – but carbon emissions are falling as more people choose train
  • Virgin Trains’ growth on the west coast route between Glasgow and London over the last decade has saved enough CO2 (332,208tCO2) to take 145,000 cars off the road for a year
  • Further passenger growth on the east coast route between Edinburgh and London can be accommodated whilst still cutting carbon, thanks to ambitions plans by Virgin Trains to win a 50% market share against airlines

In June, 180,000 customers travelled on Virgin Trains services between Edinburgh and London and the east coast and Glasgow and London on the west coast, up from 152,000 a year earlier.

This represented 33% of the total air/rail market (not including Sleeper services), up from 32% in June 2014, according to figures for direct air journeys provided by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

On the east coast route between Edinburgh and London, Virgin Trains’ market share against airlines was as high as 37%, up two percentage points on its previous peak in 2014.

On west coast, Virgin Trains’ market share between Glasgow and London was 27%.

Virgin said it has also seen strong growth in July and August.

The increase in market share for rail journeys comes against an increase in the overall travel market, with air and rail travel between Glasgow/Edinburgh and London increasing from 6 million in 2014 to 6.7 million last year.

Virgin Trains has set out an ambition to win 50% of the air/rail market share between Edinburgh and London by 2023 after the introduction of its Azuma fleet, which will allow regular journeys to be reduced to just four hours.

Scotland’s Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said: “The Scottish Government has set some of the toughest climate change targets for the people of Scotland.

“I am therefore delighted to hear of the increase in the use of our railway, as it is a fundamental part of achieving our greener transport aspirations.

“I welcome the publication of this Transform Scotland report which showcases the environmental benefits of rail, and underlines the importance of having high speed rail connectivity between Scotland and London.”

David Horne, Virgin Trains Managing Director on the east coast route, said: “When we took over the east coast route, we set out ambitious plans to gain a 50% market share between Edinburgh and London by 2023.

“These figures show an encouraging start to that journey and confirm an historic shift in travel patterns towards train.

“Our customers have responded positively to the improvements in customer service and investment in new train interiors and additional services.”

Sarah Copley, commercial director for Virgin Trains on the west coast route, said: “In the 20 years that Virgin has operated services between London and Glasgow, we’ve seen spectacular growth as customers have welcomed the step change in services we’ve delivered.

“We’re delighted to see that growth continue – which is good for customer choice and the environment.”