COMPETITION for rail passengers between the Scottish and English capitals has broken out between rival train operators for the first time in nearly a century.
Virgin Trains is seeking to lure travellers from East Coast with new services between Edinburgh and London via the west coast main line and Birmingham.
It has increased the number of daily trains from one to six in each direction, which is thought to be the most that have ever run on the route via Carstairs.
The company, owned by Sir Richard Branson, is especially chasing first-class business passengers. Bosses hope travellers will be attracted by what they claim is a superior service than that provided by UK government-run East Coast.
Virgin concedes its trains will take an hour longer to reach London, but said certain fares would be cheaper.
The move comes months after UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin called for the impending reprivatisation of East Coast to reignite its predecessors’ historic rivalry.
He said: “We want to see a revitalised East Coast railway, one that rekindles the spirit of competition for customers and competes with the west coast on speed, quality and customer service.”
At the end of the 19th century, there was intense competition between east and west coast firms in what became known as “The Race to the North”.
The rivalry was revived in the 1920s, the era of the London and North Eastern Railway’s prestigious Flying Scotsman locomotive and train, which the London Midland and Scottish railway sought to challenge on the west coast.
Graham Leech, executive commercial director for Virgin Trains, said: “We’re delighted to go head-to-head with East Coast on London to Scotland and offer passengers more choice on this route, as well as letting them benefit from our industry-leading customer service.
“Our west coast service via Birmingham obviously takes longer for passengers travelling between the capitals. But the significant boost in capacity means we can offer more choice on fares and we feel the onboard offer we provide will prove attractive to many.”
East Coast commercial and customer service director Peter Williams said: “East Coast already competes strongly between Edinburgh and London with the car, coaches and airlines – and we’re steadily gaining market share in competition with flights..
“We also offer up to 42 weekday East Coast trains on our more direct east coast route, compared with just 13 trains via the west coast.
“Many of our passengers are already benefiting from very competitive advance fares.”
Linda McCord, of the independent watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “Passengers will welcome the choice this offers, including the option to get directly from Edinburgh to more towns and cities such as Coventry.”