Three in 10 travellers between Glasgow and London now go by rail. Virgin Trains, which runs services on the West Coast main line between the two cities, says that passenger numbers top 717,000 a year, up from 244,000 a decade ago.
In the 12 months to July 2019, 29 per cent of passengers on the route took the train rather than flying on what is the UK’s second-busiest domestic air route, after the link between Edinburgh and London.
The previous record of 27 per cent was set in 2014 when visitor numbers were boosted by the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Around 2.5 million people make the journey between the two cities by air or rail each year. Over the year to July 2019, the number of rail passengers increased by 57,000 while air travellers fell by 81,000.
The sustainable transport charity Transform Scotland says that rail’s increased market share has driven down carbon emissions between Glasgow and London.
In the year to July 2019, total carbon emissions for air and rail travel between the two cities fell by one sixth.
Of total journeys linking both Glasgow and Edinburgh with London, 35 per cent are by rail – up one per cent in the 12 months to July 2019.
Colin Howden, director of Transform Scotland, said: “Rail produces a fifth of the climate emissions that comes from air travel. It’s definitely the greenest option for Anglo-Scottish travel.”
Mark Smith, the founder of the Seat61.com website, said: “Virgin has transformed Britain’s West Coast main line. They’ve doubled London-Glasgow train service so it’s now every hour, raised line speed to 125mph and cut journey time to 4h 29m.
“I travelled from Glasgow to London earlier this year on a first class advance fare with food and wine included, and free wifi so I could work on the train – the beautiful scenery through the Scottish Borders and Lake District was a bonus.
“I’m not surprised that it’s an increasingly popular alternative to flying, and a far greener alternative, too.”
Phil Whittingham, managing director of Virgin Trains, said: “The number of people choosing train over plane is testament to the investment and improvement Virgin Trains has made in Anglo-Scottish services over the last two decades.”
His company’s franchise will end on 7 December after 22 years.
From 8 December First Trenitalia takes over the role running long-distance trains on the West Coast main line, which links London Euston with the West Midlands, northwest England and southern Scotland.
The new train operator is an alliance between Scotland’s First Group and Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato.
Virgin Trains was excluded from the next franchise by the Department for Transport (DfT), which described the train operator’s bid as non-compliant, and said: “They are responsible for their own disqualification.”
The row centres on the extent to which train operators should be responsible for meeting the requirements of the Pensions Regulator.
Virgin Trains says it is “extremely disappointed” to lose the right to run trains on the line it took over in 1997.
The new transport secretary, Grant Shapps, described the decision to award the contract to First Trenitalia as “positive news for passengers, with more services, more direct connections and ambitious plans for a cleaner, greener railway”.
From 8 December, any tickets bought on Virgin Trains will be valid on First Trenitalia.
Virgin Trains is bidding to run a rival “open access” service between Liverpool and London from May 2021.