A lot of people believe Richard Branson has a touch of magic about him. I've heard people personally say that he's revolutionised the West Coast but those in the North East may not remember Virgin Trains so fondly. Virgin used to run the CrossCountry rail franchise (which served stations such as Newcastle and York) which seemed to have inherited the worst of the old British Rail InterCity stock, whereas the East Coast (run by GNER at the time) had inherited the best of the InterCity stock.

While GNER was quick to get their trains painted into a smart new livery and made sure they were well maintained on the inside, Virgin didn't make much effort on improving their existing carriages either outside or inside. Virgin started their franchise in 1997 but I was still seeing tatty trains in a mix of old Virgin and British Rail livery into the new millennium. The normally image focused Virgin just didn't seem to care at this point.

Then the new trains started to arrive from mid-2001. They looked smart on the outside but they weren't fit for purpose. The new trains were the Voyagers and at this point most were 4 car with a few 5-car 'Super Voyagers'. These trains were shorter than the existing trains that were operated. Their doomed to fail plan was called 'Operation Princess' this required doubling the frequency of services but using these shorter trains. This meant those travelling at peak times struggled to get a seat and the early reliability problems of the Voyager trains caused delays and breakdowns affecting other operators on the route.

Here's an example of how much care and attention was given to their old fleet. This is a picture from 2001 (note how not all the carriages had been repainted):


47849 TJH01 Stafford 20th June 2001 Copyright Tim Horn by Tim Horn, on Flickr

Compare this with the smart looking GNER in 2000:



Retford GNER Class 91 down ex pass 25th July 2000 C24974 by DaveF on RMweb

CrossCountry trains is now run by Arriva and they've done their best to make do with the trains they were given but travelling on a Voyager train is still not a pleasant experience when the trains are busy. So those who have to suffer on a Voyager train when travelling CrossCountry, it was poor decisions made by Virgin that lumbered that network with those trains.