Wednesday 20 January 2021
The longest of the original franchises with an intended length of 15 years and three months, to terminate 31 March 2012. (This was reported incorrectly in some official sources as 15 years.)
The Invitation to Tender was issued in September 1996 and the contract was awarded to Virgin Rail Group on 28 November 1996. It included a major commitment to replace the existing locomotive-hauled fleet with new diesel electric multiple units: these consisted of Classes 220 (non-tilting) and 221 (tilting) and were supplied by Bombardier Transportation.
An attempt to replan the timetable and improve services under the name of ‘Operation Princess’ in September 2002 proved to be over-ambitious, and some routes were also affected by the slow progress in modernising the West Coast Main Line.
An Interim Agreement had been signed with the SRA in July 2002 to operate the franchise under a management contract (’cost-plus’), renewed annually, in return for 1% of revenue, while the longer-term contract was renegotiated.
From 2001 some destinations were progressively removed from the CrossCountry network, including Ramsgate, Portsmouth and London Paddington.
The SRA refused Virgin's ‘best and final’ bid on 6 August 2004 and notice of termination was served on 31 October 2005. A new franchise competition was launched, and the contract was won by Arriva.
Virgin continued to operate CrossCountry under the same ‘cost-plus’ arrangement until 11 November 2007, when the next CrossCountry franchise started.
5 January 1997
11 November 2007
Virgin Rail Group Ltd
CrossCountry Trains Limited
Birmingham New Street–Bristol–Swansea/Exeter–Paignton/Plymouth–Penzance/Newquay; Gloucester–Swindon–Reading–London Paddington/Kensington Olympia–Gatwick Airport–Brighton/Ramsgate; Reading–Guildford–Portsmouth/Southampton–Bournemouth–Poole/Oxford–Coventry–Birmingham–Stafford–Crewe/Stoke-on-Trent–Manchester–Liverpool; Crewe–Wigan–Blackpool/Carlisle–Glasgow/Edinburgh–Aberdeen/Newcastle–York–Leeds/Doncaster–Sheffield–Derby–Birmingham
CrossCountry TOU (British Railways Board)
was replaced by