Virgin Trains East Coast
THE JOURNEY: Virgin is trying hard to win passengers from airlines on Anglo-Scottish routes, offering trains every half hour on the London-Newcastle-Edinburgh route with a journey time of about 4.5 hours. This will come down to around four hours from the end of 2018 as new ‘Azuma’ trains are introduced. My 0900 departure from King’s Cross was very busy with most first class seats reserved, with roomy leather seats in 2+1 configuration at tables with power points by windows. The train quickly reached its 125mph top speed but the ride was lively at times, making it difficult to type on my laptop. Arrival in Edinburgh was a few minutes late but still under 4.5 hours from London.
THE SERVICE: I had already visited the first class lounge at King’s Cross to have a coffee and use wifi, and the one-off registration process is simple. Email onboard the train worked well but loading websites was rather slow, and this is likely to be the case especially at busy times. Catering is a plus point with hot and cold food and drinks included for first class passengers, and after tea on departure, I was tucking into a full English breakfast 40 minutes later. By the time we reached York lunch was being served, with dishes including Moroccan lamb couscous or gourmet sausage roll.
THE VERDICT: The three big plus points comparing rail with air travel are the unbroken journey from city centre to city centre, the ability to work comfortably and use wifi throughout, and the availability of a good meal service on some longer routes. On all three points the train delivered, and when journey times come down to four hours on London-Edinburgh then rail – usually marginally slower than flying on centre to centre journeys – will win over many more business travellers. But wifi speeds need to be improved, and don't expect lots of working space even in first class when busy.
THE DETAILS: Trains operate every half hour for much of the day, but fares vary widely depending on when you book. Typical fares are from £68 one-way in standard class and £142 in first class (Advance), or from £138 return in standard and £221.50 in first. ‘Walk-up’ Anytime one-way fares are £151.50 in standard and £237.50 in first. Lower fares may be available on Virgin’s Euston-Edinburgh route, but this takes about one hour longer. virgintrainseastcoast.com
Reviewed by Dave Richardson (2017)