Image: Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell with David Horne & Martin Griffiths for launch of Virgin Trains' new cross-border timetable.
The timetable was also welcomed by civic leaders in Newcastle, which has benefited from the increased cross-border connectivity.
Councillor Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council, said: "This is great news for passengers and businesses in the region. It will improve connectivity to London and Edinburgh which gives more opportunities for how we spend our leisure time and businesses to seek new markets. I welcome Virgin's extra investment and I'm confident passengers will take advantage of it."
Ross Smith, Director of Policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, added: "The greater frequency of service and improved connections to both London and Edinburgh are great news for the North East. These links are vital for our regional economy and Virgin's investment is very much welcome."
Virgin Trains has unveiled ambitious plans to persuade more people to switch from air to rail travel between the UK and Scottish capitals by investing in service and timetable improvements.
Free wifi is on offer for all customers who book on the www.virgintrainseastcoast.com website and a new First Class menu overseen by British chef and TV presenter James Martin. This will include a new range of specially created seasonal menus showcasing fresh, local flavours and championing producers on the train operator's route. New exciting food options will be rolled out for Standard customers in Autumn.
These improvements follow a raft of recent investments, including an ongoing complete refurbishment of train interiors and a recently completed overhaul of First Class Lounges, including Edinburgh and London, to give them a stylish Virgin twist. The booking horizon has been extended from the industry standard of three months to six months, giving people more time to plan holidays and secure great deals. A programme to completely overhaul train interiors is underway and, from 2018, Virgin Trains will introduce a new fleet of greener, faster, more comfortable Azuma trains, allowing regular Edinburgh-London services to be accelerated to just four hours.
David Horne, Managing Director for Virgin Trains on the east coast route, said: "We're really pleased that our new services have proved so popular with the travelling public. We think the combination of service improvements and a half-hourly frequency is a winning combination, and that together with low fares we'll be able to persuade more people to switch from the inconvenience of air travel to the comfort of our trains."
More than a million rail passengers travelled between London and Edinburgh last year. Virgin Trains has unveiled ambitions plans to capture half of this market from airlines by the end of its eight-year franchise on the east coast route in 2023.
§ New timetable sees 15% uplift in cross-border rail bookings. § 42 additional London-Edinburgh services every week, adding 22,000 seats in near half-hourly service.§ Free wifi for bookings through Virgin Trains website.
Virgin Trains in profile
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. This includes a major fleet revamp, smarter stations and exciting new routes. From May 2016, there will be 42 additional services (22,000 extra seats) per week between Edinburgh and London. 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.
For further information, view website: www.virgintrains.co.uk