Iconic brand gets local investment

Virgin Trains East Coast is going places, and with West & North Yorkshire as its biggest and, in their words, primary market, the region should expect some exciting developments to an already vastly improved network. 

Spearheading the customer experience on the much-improved East Coast Main Line are customer relations managers, Natasha Wilding and Claire Ansley. With both Natasha and Claire growing up in the county, they are passionate about the work  being done and the exciting developments ahead. 

Claire Ansley, General Manager for the North at Virgin East Coast, spoke of her excitement. 

“I think for Yorkshire and particularly York this is an incredibly exciting time. The enormity of changes is revolutionising the network which is invigorating to see come to life. From technological improvements to new services, there are so many things for customers to look forward to.” 

Natasha Wilding, Virgin Train East Coast’s General Manager for the Central region primarily oversees the Leeds team, as well as Wakefield, Doncaster, Retford and Newark stations. 

“I have a large team of management that work for me, and we have responsibility for all the on-train and station activities. I joined the team at Virgin in January 2017, and I am excited to bring nearly 30 years of experience in the rail sector to Virgin East Coast. 

Already someway into a journey started in March 2015, the first thing Virgin did differently was – as you might expect from a Virgin company – add a splash of red paint to the exterior of the trains. 

However, their approach has been much, much more than just a lick of paint and adding their iconic brand to the trains, stations and marketing material. With £50m of investments in the first two years already under their belt, the company has committed to a further £140m in the franchise over the course of the next eight years.  A key component of their continued investments is the inclusion of 65 new Azuma trains from 2018 – 2020 which will replace the old fleet of diesel and electric vehicles inherited on the takeover of the franchise. 

Implementation of the new fleet is something Natasha is particularly excited about. 

“What I am most looking forward to seeing is our new fleet of Azuma trains, and with the first arriving in September, I feel it will be a truly transformative time for the company and something passengers will immediately reap the benefits of.  However, we knew our customers wanted a better experience right away and that three years was far too long to wait, so we invested £21m into the refurbishment of the interior of our current fleet. Part of the upgrades that our passengers have been responding positively to is our new on-board entertainment system Beam. It offers something truly unique, with hours of entertainment for the whole family completely free.” 

Another part of the  £140m investment plan, Virgin Trains announced back in May that customers can take advantage of even more trains on its east coast route with more affordable fares on those services.   As part of the growth, Virgin confirmed that 22 additional Saturday services would run from stations including Leeds, Wakefield, Doncaster, Peterborough, and Grantham.  The new timetable means there will be an extra 600,000 seats available compared to a year ago.  

Following improvements made to the timetable in December 2016, these latest changes increase the number of seats by 410,000, representing a significant investment in services.  One such improvement is the acquisition of Yorkshire’s own James Martin as executive chef. James will be implementing a new seasonal menu that will proudly showcase fresh, local flavours and champion producers on the train operator’s route.  

Breakfast, casual dining and, on selected services, evening meals are all set to be reinvigorated by James’ distinctive flair. For breakfast, James has created an exclusive range of jams produced by Yorkshire-based The Fruity Kitchen.  This is something both Clare and Natasha are keen to talk about the benefits this will have on the overall journey and experience.  For Natasha, it is refreshing to see something that is so often overlooked in the sector given this level of consideration. 

“Onboard food offerings are now something that I am proud to talk about and something customers have also been commenting on. The mere inclusion of local produce is something I am particularly glad to see as the region has such an enviable array of producers.” 

For Clare, it just further cements Virgin East Coast’s commitment to the overall experience. 

“This is just another step in Virgin Trains’ journey of improving each element of our customers’ experience when they travel with us. It is something that we will continue to develop and having James on board is truly exciting.” 

With record levels of investment and a keen eye on the customer experience, Virgin East Coast is setting the benchmark to which others will aspire.  

For more information on train timetables and services visit, www.virgintrainseastcoast.com/