BRITISH operator Virgin Rail placed a £1060m order on December 9 for Bombardier to supply and maintain a fleet of 78 diesel-electric multiple-units between 2001 and 2002. The 200 km/h trains will operate Virgin CrossCountry services and Virgin West Coast's London - Holyhead route. The contract is valued at £390m for 352 vehicles and £670m for maintenance until the end of the VCC franchise in 2012.

Virgin had awarded a letter of intent to Bombardier on March 3 to supply a mix of tilting DMUs and non-tilting push-pull trainsets, valued at £858m (RG 4.98 p211). The loco-hauled option was subsequently dropped, and the final mix comprises 40 five-car and 4 four-car units with tilt gear and another 34 four-car non-tilting sets. They will be funded by the GL Railease joint venture of GATX and Lombard North Central, and made available to Virgin under an 11-year operating lease.

The vehicles will be assembled at Bombardier's Prorail plant near Wakefield, with components coming from its factories in France and Belgium. The first deliveries are now due in December 2000, and the last by July 2002; all must be in service for the September 2002 timetable change. Virgin is currently negotiating with Railtrack for the trains to run at 200 km/h on various routes for the summer 2003 timetable; this could cut the Birmingham - Edinburgh journey from 4h 52 min to 3h 30min.

Key facts

Virgin Rail buys 352 DEMU cars
Cost £390m
Maintenance to 2012: £670m
Finance from GL Railease
Deliveries from December 2000 to July 2002

  • CAPTION: On November 17 Virgin Rail Group Honorary President Richard Branson opened a design studio at Alstom's Washwood Heath plant. It houses the 200-strong Alstom/Fiat project team for the 54 tilting trains to run Virgin's West Coast inter-city services. Six zone teams are responsible for Cab, Roof & Body ends, Interiors, Interior Systems, Underframe and Systems. A pre-series train is due to be ready for testing at the Serco Railtest Old Dalby test track in July 2000, with all 54 units entering service between May 2001 and May 2002. But with no funding package agreed, the formal order had still not been signed by mid-December