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 InterCity CrossCountry franchise

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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 author:
Frédéric de Kemmeter 
Railway signalling systems. I'm a rail observer for over 30 years. How has the railway evolved over the decades? Which futur for railways? That's what I'm analyzing and explaining.

InterCity CrossCountry franchise by Virgin (1997 - 2007)
It is an iconic franchise for several reasons. It is the one that avoids London and that connects directly the big British cities. It operates many intercity trains in the UK that do not serve London, including the longest direct rail service from Aberdeen in northeastern Scotland to Penzance in Cornwall in the Southwest of England. It is one of only two franchised train operators that operates no stations, the other being the Caledonian Sleeper. All connections leave or end at Birmingham New Street. Major cities served by CrossCountry include Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Aberdeen ...

First operator: 
Subsidiary / Division:  

Commercial segment:
Duration of the franchise:  
Second operator: 
Duration of the franchise: 
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Virgin Trains
51% Virgin Rail Group Ltd
49% Stagecoach
Passenger transport
Long distance
6/1/1997 – 10/11/2007

11/11/2007 - 12/2019

This franchise, awarded in November 1996, was Virgin's first ever, and was officially launched on January 6, 1997, three months before the West Coast.
1997 - 2003 : train services before Dmu Voyagers
For this franchise, which includes non-electrified routes, the former British Rail fleet included:  
- 28 Class 47 diesel locomotives (built in 1963-66);  
- 16 Class 86 electric locomotives (built in 1965-66);  
- 193 Mk II cars built in 1968-72 which allow 25 trainsets of seven cars for operations at 145 and 160 km / h;  
- 57 HST Class 43 powercars (built in 1978-82);  
- 199 Mk III cars for HST trains (built over the period 1978-82) which allow 24 trainsets of 7 cars and 3 trainsets of 8 cars, suitable for 200 km / h &  
- 5 Dmu Class 158 with 2 cars (built in 1990). 
Virgin began the franchise with 57 trainsets for its CrossCountry service. HST 125 fans are delighted to see that this rolling stock, one of the icons of the British Rail intercity, still carried on his great career beyond privatization and orders for new rolling stock. Since 2003, all this material will be gradually recased elsewhere, in other operators with others colors and logos ...

Mk2 cars
These cars were built in 1970 under the Mk2c type, followed by the Mk2d in 1971 which has air conditioning, the power supply becoming standard with an alternator to provide lighting, heating and air conditioning. The Mk2e type was introduced in 1972-73 with the coming of fluorescent tubes for lighting. The major change was especially the more compact toilet. The final development was the Mk2f type introduced in 1973-75 whose interior design features improved seating and air conditioning through the side heaters. All Mk2 are equipped with B4 bogies suitable for 160 km / h and seats facing 2 by 2. The 193 vehicles which inherited by Virgin Trains in 1997 for its franchise contrast greatly with the rolling stock still "old" driving on the Continent, for example SNCF 'Corails' or the European VSEs cars that were born also during the 70's. Since 1994, Eurostar arrived in Waterloo-Station with a radical modern different design ... That's why the first years of Virgin were difficult: the reuse of existing rolling stock at the time of privatization looked like a bad joke for the customers...
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First class Mk2F car in Nuneaton in 16 june 2002 (photo Steve Jones via license flickr)
We do not have pictures of the interior design of the Mk2 cars at the time of Virgin, but of others operators. The Mk2 are today exploited for the most part in what is called in the 'heritage railways', the historic railways. Some photos allow us to guess the comfort that was offered at that time on the CrossCountry franchise. Right here the first class version at an event of the Cotswold Rail in 2008. And below what could be the second class ...
(photos Mattbuck via license wikipedia)
Diesel Class 47
The operation with Mk2 trains, whose services were mainly driven on non-electrified lines, was entrusted to the venerable Class 47 diesel locomotives. Developed between 1962 and 1968, nearly 512 locomotives were built, making it the serie with the most great number of locomotives built. Porterbrook owned a large Class 47/8 fleet, and Virgin then completed the fleet with four EWS class 47/7 machines for his semi-permanent service. In total, and despite a lack of reliability, Virgin leases 28 machines to complete its needs alongside the HST125 trainsets. Class 47 were only needs between 2002 and 2003, the year of gradual withdrawal of this class with the coming of Dmu Voyager and Super Voyager.
Class 47 named  'The Institution of Mechanical Engineers'  at Exeter St Davids station, on June 2, 2002 (photo Les Chatfield via licence flickr) 
HST 125
The InterCity 125, which was the icon of British Rail, are diesel-powered passenger trains built between 1975 and 1982. Each train consisted of two Class 43 engines, and a set of six to nine Mk3 cars. Mk3 cars for HSTs are virtually identical to those for pulled trains, except for a difference in auxiliaries for powering air conditioning, heating and lighting. Virgin receives a park which makes it possible to compose 25 trainsets of 7 cars, the remainder being for the reserve. Virgin had retained the HSTs for Cross Country and partially for West Coast services to achieve a massive increase in mileage from May 1998 as part of a franchise commitment. On January 6, 1997, the 43063 'Maiden Voyager' and 43068, painted in the bright red livery of the company, started the first Edinburgh - Penzance train, paving the way for ten years of Virgin-colored trains on CrossCountry. They will spread, avoiding London, to Penzance, Plymouth, Exeter, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh, and further north to Aberdeen. Some saturday summer services were added with trains to destinations such as Newquay and Paignton. To help Virgin Trains in this operation, HST trains were also hired from GNER and Midland Mainline, which added more colors of the Virgin services...
HST 43166 passing Cardiff Canton, on July 15, 2002 (photo Steve Jones via licence flickr) 
In October 2002, Virgin Cross Country launched Operation Princess, which sees the massive arrival of the new Bombardier Voyager trains, moving the HST 125s from their original routes. A fleet named Challenger was planned to operate the services of Blackpool and Manchester to Birmingham, with the objective of modernizing this fleet and keeping HST's trainsets within Virgin Cross Country for a future project from London-Paddington to Birmingham via Swindon. The HST trains were shortened to 5 cars while remaining framed by two motor. This would have given the trains a better acceleration, similar to Voyager units. But the project was finally not approved. Another fleet, called Pioneer was briefly formed for regular service until September 2003 on Virgin Cross Country. Only a lighter fleet was still needed for West Coast services. 43090/093 / 099-103 / 154/157/158 were all surplus and were stored at Bicester. A new period coming ...
2001 : coming of Bombardier Voyager et Super Voyager
It was time ! Should not privatization change the design of trains? It took five years, according to fleet director who said that unlike Virgin Atlantic's planes, « with trains, it takes at least five years to design and build new vehicles ». The challenge dates back to 1998 when Bombardier received a contract from Virgin Trains for the purchase and maintenance of a fleet of 78 Bombardier "Voyager" diesel trains originally operated for the Cross Country franchise. There were finally two types of Voyager trains ordered by Virgin:  
- 34 trainsets Class 220 four cars trains;  
- 44 trainsets Class 221 reams with four or five tilting cars.  
A Class 222 was also built but did not concern Virgin. Some of the Class 220 and 221 trains were built at the Bombardier plant in Bruges, Belgium, and others at Wakefield. The fact that these trainsets arrived for the new millennium allowed the customers to see that England made a quantumleap of a century, compared to the Mk2 cars... This is the first time in the history of the railway that CrossCountry passengers benefited from a new fleet of trains. The Voyagers offer indeed many train facilities that have never been seen before in the UK, including digital seat reservations, audio entertainment instead an on-board shop. CrossCountry being a national franchise managed by only one operator, so the new trains were visible across the country from Aberdeen to Penzance.  
The Voyager Class 220
Dmu 220 003 four cars entering in Bristol Temple Meads station, le 6 septembre 2005 (photo Chris McKenna via wikipedia) 
Class 220 are diesel trainsets with 174 standard seats, and 26 seats in first class, ie 200 seats in total. These trainsets were only in operation for the CrossCountry franchise. All units are owned by Lloyds Banking Group's subsidiaries and remain - to date - in maintenance by Bombardier Transportation Service (BTS) at the Central Rivers depot near Burton-on-Trent.

Dmu 220 can operate in multiple units with the Class 221 but not with the 222. These diesel units have a range of 2,170 km between each refueling. What strikes immediately is the design of the bogies: they were manufactured in Crespin in France with a light conception. 
Designated B5005 and sold under the name Flexx Eco, this is a development of the  xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
the B5000 bogie produced in 1991 by RFS Specialist Rail Products in collaboration with British Rail Research for the operation of Network SouthEast. Bombardier upgraded the original BR specification to allow 200 km / h operation of the B5005 with one drive axle and up to 225 km / h for a bogies under cars. Thanks to the innovative features of the extremely compact design, the FLEXX Eco bogie offers a 30% reduction in unsprung mass and the full mass compared to conventional bogies. In Great Britain, in particular, where infrastructure access fees are directly related to the aggressiveness produced on the track, these characteristics generated  xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
significant advantages for the train operator. The axles are supported by bearings behind the wheels, which means that the outer face of the wheel is then visible. For his service, Virgin gave each trainset with a baptismal name that the following operator, Arriva, will delete rapidly....

The Dmu 220 were criticized for their small size. Their body design is ovoid to meet the narrower British gauge, but in reality it is identical to the Class 221 designed for tilting. But class 220 don't have this technical possibility that would have required a change of bogie. Another criticism was the noise and vibrations under the floor, which the regulars passengers of the HST don't knew, for at least one reason : on the Voyager Class 220, each car is motorized, not on HST 125. Finally, the choice of four cars could be largely insufficient at certain times on the day or some days of the year, for example during holydays. Line sections where they could reach their maximum speed of 200km / h are very few. Apart from that, the Class 220s produced a considerable qualitative leap on a British network accustomed to antiques.

Super Voyager Class 221
Dmu 221121 Super Voyager with five cars in Taunton station (photo Peter Skuce via wikipedia) 
Like the Voyager Class 220, their successors Super Voyager Class 221 enter service on the Birmingham-Reading-Brighton route. The 44 diesel electric trainsets with four or five cars were built in 2002. Unlike the previous vehicles, Class 221 used a new generation of bogies which, at the same top speed of 200 km / h, were lighter than those mounted on the Class 220. This allowed Virgin to pay significantly reduced track costs. The second innovation is the tilting technology, and we find the same ovoid-shaped body that on the Class 220. 
Concerning the 44 Class 221 trainsets, 4 were paid for the benefit of the other franchise, the West Coast, in order to operate the partially non-electrified route between London Euston and Holyhead (port of Wales to join the Ireland by ferry). These trainsets only had four cars instead of five. They were 40 tons heavier than the Class 220 due to their tilting system, and much of the additional weight is located in the bogie which have a different design to accommodate tilt equipment. Both versions are however identical, with components coming from the same suppliers. The hydraulic tilting system originates from those used on Canada's LRC train in the 1970s. Its design was later developed for Amtrak's Acela Express in the United States, and was then chosen as basis system for the Super Voyager. The body tilts up to 6 ° with a maximum of 225mm.
Train service on the Cross Country
Voyager's first complete train was completed in Belgium in autumn 2000, and arrived in Britain in January 2001 for testing. On May 21 of the same year, a first unplanned service, open to the public, was operated from Birmingham to Reading. The official launch of Voyagers took place on June 5, 2001 by Sir Richard Branson. 
Virgin CrossCountry - abbreviated as VXC - is the only national railway operating company (TOC). The planning called 'Princess' required four years of negotiations, with seven different Railtrack zones, with 18 other TOCs, with the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) and with nearly 150 councils in 235 constituencies. Railtrack also spent € 224 million on infrastructure upgrades before launching the new CrossCountry schedule. The commercial service itself began on September 30, 2002 to the Birmingham-Reading route, where travel was reduced by more than 20% from 1 hour 50 minutes to 1 hour 27 minutes. The number of trains between Birmingham and Reading increased from 18 to 41 trains a day. 
With their 74 trainsets in service for VXC, the CrossCountry franchise can exploit all its opportunities. Virgin now offers 215 daily trains instead of the 90 British Rail trains before 1996. This is therefore more than doubling. For the new September 2002 time schedule, VXC services ran systematically with four Birmingham-based routes, with hourly or half-hour service to many UK destinations. VXC serves a total of 115 stations, making it a truly national franchise. Four sections between Birmingham, Reading, Bristol, Stafford and Sheffield have a half-hour train service, some of the trains of which continuing to their final destination (Southampton, Penzance, Cardiff, Edinburgh ...). The map on right shows the 2002 service concerning the two franchises and the 4 lines of the CrossCountry (VT1 and VT4 are common route):
Penzance - Exeter - Bristol - Birmingham - Crewe - Carlisle - Glasgow / Blackpool
Pool - Southampton - Reading - Oxford - Birmingham - Manchester - Carlsile - Glasgow / Edimbourg - (Aberdeen)
Portsmouth / Brighton - Reading - Oxford - Birmingham - Manchester
Penzance - Exeter / Swansea - Cardiff - Bristol - Birmingham - York - Newcastle - Edimbourg - (Aberdeen)
Swindon - Birmingham
As was the norm for all rolling stock orders, nearly € 774 million of the full project costs were allocated to the maintenance part with Bombardier Transportation Service. As part of this contract, maintenance throughout the duration of the VXC franchise required for Bombardier to build a new 33.66 million depot, named "Central Rivers", located in Barton-under-Needwood, close to Burton-on-Trent, optimaly placed in the heart of most VXC routes. This site was chosen because his proximity with the historic facilities of Derby and Crewe. The depot inaugurated in May 2001 include inspection pits, hoisting facilities, train washing and refueling. His surface enables maintenance of almost 20 trains per night and it was the first depot built and used solely for CrossCountry services and was at the time reputed to be xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
an ultra-modern maintenance site because of its organized interior and its operational efficiency. Another difference is the Bombardier depot have greatly help to forgotten the old British Rail era...
Great line-up of Class 220 at Central Rivers Depot (photo press Bombardier)
2007 : franchises restructuring
The difficult beginnings of the franchise system, theirs short lead times, and the experience acquired drove for a new version of the system in 2007. Franchises were modified, others were created. Despite good assets and renewed rolling stock, the government decided in 2006 to award the Intercity CrossCountry franchise to a new operator, Arriva UK. Virgin, however, retained the services between the West Midlands and Scotland, which were then transferred to the West Coast Main Line franchise activities. CrossCountry had to transfer the Manchester-Scotland route for the new TransPennine Express, while conversely, a number of interregional routes from Birmingham were transferred to the new Arriva CrossCountry franchise. Concerning the rolling stock, all Class 220 trains were allocated to the new operator while the 221 trains were divided into two groups: 20 trains for Virgin Trains and 24 trainsets for Arriva UK, maintenance remaining in the Bombardier depot of Central Rivers.
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