Virgin Trains is to re-form two four-car Class 221 Super Voyager trains to provide greater flexibility and offer consistency in the operation of Birmingham-Scotland and London-Chester-North Wales services which are booked for Class 221 operation.
Virgin Trains currently operates a fleet of 21 Class 221 Super Voyager trains, of which three are four-car sets and the remainder are five-car sets. There is a requirement for 18 sets to be provided for service every day. Over the last year one set has been stopped as part of a bogie overhaul programme without affecting the daily provision of 18 trains.
One of the challenges of a mixed size fleet is ensuring that the smaller four-car trains are only allocated to diagrams specified for four-car trains. Use on 5-car diagrams results in overcrowding and discomfort for customers and results in complaints from both customers and staff. Growth in passenger numbers, currently running at 12% year-on-year also means that even when the four-car trains are used on the correct diagrams, overcrowding still occurs.
In order to ensure that all 18 diagrams are covered by five-car trains, a plan has been developed which will see one of the four-car sets disbanded. The two driving cars will be placed into warm storage and the remaining two coaches will be used to strengthen the other four car trains to five-car sets.
Despite the fact that two coaches will be stored, the ability to operate the two additional five-car trains more intensively and with greater flexibility than we have been able to do so as four-car sets will result in an increase in the number of seats provided by the Super Voyager fleet each day.
The plan is that set 221144 will be disbanded, allowing sets 221142 and 221143 to become five car trains. The formation of these two sets will be
221142 60492 60792 60994 60992 60392
221143 60493 60793 60794 60993 60393
From December 12th 2010, all Class 221 diagrams will be for five-car sets.
The diesel-powered Super Voyager trains are also used on diverted services when major engineering work closes core parts of the West Coast Main Line. Operating in five, ten or 15 coach formations on non-electrified routes through the Chilterns, Manchester, and over the Settle and Carlisle and the Glasgow and South Western routes. This provides the ability to maintain through train services and avoid the extensive use of rail replacement buses. This strategy has been key to the growth in weekend travel over the last 18 months.
Virgin Trains Chief Operating Officer Chris Gibb said: “The operation of mixed-sized train fleets is always challenging, having to balance the customer reservation requirements with engineering requirements. In the event of any delays or service disruption it is inevitable that the trains end up on the wrong services which just increases customer complaints. InterCity experienced the same challenges in the 1990s when it operated Pullman and standard sets, which due to the difference in First/Standard seating layouts meant that they had to be restricted to specific workings.”