Virgin Azuma debuts in Scotland on east coast test run

Virgin Azuma crosses Royal Border Bridge at Berwick upon Tweed
Virgin Azuma crosses Royal Border Bridge at Berwick upon Tweed

Virgin’s state-of-the-art Azuma train has visited Scotland for the first time as part of plans to transform Edinburgh-London rail journeys.

The inaugural run north of the border was made as part of a testing programme by manufacturer Hitachi in preparation for roll out of the 65-strong fleet on the east coast route next year.

The eagerly-anticipated debut comes as Virgin plans to accelerate journey times between Edinburgh and London by 22 minutes, bringing regular journey times down to just four hours.

The Azuma is set to be one of the most advance passenger trains on the UK rail network, able to accelerate faster than existing trains and providing more comfort and space inside.

As well as speeding up journeys and boosting capacity out of King’s Cross by 28% at peak times, the Virgin-designed train will usher in a new era of comfort and style.

It has taken its name from the Japanese word for “East”, in homage to its lineage and the iconic east coast route where it will operate.

The Azuma being tested yesterday was a 9-car bi-mode train capable of travelling on both electric and diesel power.

It travelled north of Newcastle for the first time at 12.00 yesterday, travelling over the iconic Royal Border Bridge in Berwick-upon-Tweed and then over the Scottish border itself at 12.45.

It arrived at Dunbar Station, where it was met by a piper as it pulled into the platform shortly after 1pmbefore departing four minutes later to travel south to Doncaster.

The test run was welcomed by Scotland’s Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, who said: “Making rail an attractive alternative is an ideal way to encourage more people out of their cars and onto greener transport. That is why it’s great to see Virgin’s first cross-border Azuma fleet in Scotland as part of their testing programme which is building towards service introduction next year. This new fleet of trains serving stations all across the north and east of the country offer more opportunities for passengers to travel by rail in the future.”

David Horne, Virgin Trains’ Managing Director on the east coast route, said: “The Virgin Azuma will deliver a step-change in services between Scotland and England, taking regular journeys down to just four hours. Having the train visit Scotland for the first time as part of testing is a really important moment and reminds us of the excitement it will bring to UK train travel when it is introduced into service.”

Karen Boswell, Managing Director at Hitachi Rail Europe, said: “Passengers and enthusiasts in Scotland will be seeing more of the Azuma trains in the coming months as part of our rigorous test programme. Our UK-built fleet harnesses world famous Japanese bullet train technology, giving passengers on the east coast main line the very best in quality and reliability.”

Virgin are introducing the Azumas in conjunction with the DfT. The 65-strong fleet must undergo a rigorous test programme ahead of entering passenger service next year.

About Virgin Trains:

Stagecoach and Virgin are working in partnership to operate the East Coast and West Coast inter-city routes under the Virgin Trains brand. Together, they are on track to revolutionise rail travel across the UK.

The combined network connects some of the nation’s most iconic destinations including Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, York and London.

Virgin Trains is committed to delivering a high speed, high frequency service, offering shorter journey times, more comfortable travel and excellent customer service. Customers consistently rate Virgin Trains as one of the top long-distance rail franchise operators in the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) commissioned by industry watchdog, Transport Focus.

On the East Coast route, £140m is being invested to create a more personalised travel experience. We have already invested over £40m in our existing fleet, including £21m refurbishing the interiors and £16m towards improving the engines of our trains. Customers can now benefit from 42 additional services between Edinburgh and London every week, and an extra 22 Saturday services between Leeds and London – a total of 1.74 million additional seats since May 2016. 2018 will see the introduction of completely new Azuma trains being built in the UK by Hitachi.

The West Coast route has a proud record of challenging the status quo - from introducing tilting Pendolino trains, to a pioneering automated delay repay scheme and becoming the first franchised rail operator to offer m-Tickets for all ticket types.