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Chiltern Railways has introduced direct competition to Virgin with their London to Birmingham services running under the ‘Mainline’ banner introduced last month.
The Chiltern Railways ‘Mainline’ service is the UKs first 100mph scheduled class 67 hauled service and uses silver liveried mark 3 stock. Much of this was used by sister company Wrexham & Shropshire, (also owned by DB Regio) which stopped running trains recently citing poor usage.
‘Mainline’ trains run hourly on the Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street route via High Wycombe and Warwick calling at Solihull, Warwick Parkway, Leamington Spa and Banbury, which combined with the 100mph running, brings London within 90 minutes of Birmingham.
A second stopping service also runs every hour between Marylebone and Birmingham Snow Hill calling at Solihull, Dorridge, Warwick Parkway, Warwick, Leamington Spa, Banbury, Bicester North and High Wycombe.
These trains are up to 20% faster than the previous timetable and made more attractive given the simple fares structure based on three simple fares will be available for all stations between Birmingham and Warwick Parkway for travel to/from London:
Anytime return £75 – travel on any train, anytime.
Off Peak £50 – travel on any train, except on weekday morning* trains towards London.
Super Off Peak £25 – travel on any train, except on weekday morning trains towards London and evening peak* time trains travelling from London.
The Business Zone (BZ) class, Chiltern boast in a clear attack on Virgin, provides larger tables and seats that are not only wider, but also have more legroom than any other train service between Birmingham and London. It also offers a dedicated train host who can provide an at-seat catering service that includes freshly cooked bacon rolls.
All trains with a BZ offer free Wi-Fi and seat reservations and Wi-Fi will eventually be available throughout all Mainline services. A £20 supplement is required per journey to travel in the BZ which Chiltern stress is not first Class with any standard class ticket is valid with a Business Zone supplement, which can be purchased with your ticket (if booking at a station) or simply upgraded onboard.
The new Chiltern Mainline carriages will also provide plug points at every seat and more tables, plus greater ticket and booking flexibility than the competitors. The loco-hauled trains have been branded ‘Silver Trains’ and run the peak services while class 168 ‘Clubman’ diesel turbo trains operate the others.
Adrian Shooter, CBE, Chairman of Chiltern Railways said that “Chiltern Mainline is the result of the largest private investment in passenger rail infrastructure in over 80 years.
Created in response to the needs of business passengers and commuters travelling between our first and second cities, we have been working to ensure Mainline allows them to become more efficient and productive.
“We can confidently now say that the Chiltern Mainline will provide the best service from the West Midlands to London, more than rivaling the current service from other rail companies into Euston.”
The engineering upgrades along Chiltern Mainline include almost 55 miles of new track, which enables the Mainline trains to travel to speeds of up to 100mph, cutting the journey time substantially.
Journey time improvements include fastest times of:
• 90 minutes between Birmingham Moor Street and London Marylebone
• 1 hour 22 minutes between Solihull and London Marylebone
• 1 hour 10 minutes between Warwick Parkway and London Marylebone
The launch of the Mainline service is yet another success for Chiltern Railways, which is the only train company to hold a 20 year franchise and has the strongest growth record of any rail business in Europe, with passenger miles increasing threefold since the start of the franchise in 1996.
So the rail route between London and Birmingham now boasts eight trains an hour. London Midland and Virgin run every 20 minutes on the West Coast route from Euston via Rugby to New Street compared with Chiltern’s every 30 minutes from Marylebone to Snow Hill via Banbury.
The original rail privatisation was proudly announced as bringing much needed competition on the railways but it is a curious fact that Virgin and Chiltern especially, vowed to win traffic from the M1 and M40 respectively illustrating at a stroke where the real competition was!
It will be interesting to see how traffic to and from Birmingham International is affected because many passengers historically drove from Warwick or Solihull for the fast services, but Chiltern have now made this unnecessary.
The practise of not allowing advance bookings at the Virgin operated ticket office before 0930 or after 1630 at Birmingham International may have to be revised now! The Travel Centre has been closed at a time of real competition and combined with a massive advertising campaign at Birmingham International, the battle is on between the franchises and hopefully, the winners will be passengers!