A new Virgin Trains service connecting Stirling and Falkirk to London has been launched by Scotland’s Transport Minister.
Derek Mackay was joined by Stirling Council Leader Johanna Boyd to see off the inaugural 5.26am departure and welcomed the role it will play in supporting Scotland’s economy.
The weekday service will cut rail journey times to the UK capital by 46 minutes and ensure passengers don’t have to change trains, with a new direct return service departing King’s Cross at 3pm.
It has been welcomed by business leaders, politicians and tourism representatives, who joined Virgin Trains bosses onboard the first departure this morning.
Mr Mackay said: “I am pleased to launch this service from Stirling to London and I am confident that it will be a major draw for tourists, students, business and residents and deliver significant economic benefits to Stirling and the wider locality.
“It will bring further attention to Stirling's diverse and growing business base, its splendid University and business Innovation Park, its impressive cultural and sporting facilities and its historical attractions."
Johanna Boyd, leader of Stirling Council, added: “Stirling is an outward-looking city and city region keen to connect and to work with the business community, to explore the opportunities that allow them and us to thrive in partnership.
“Our vision for Stirling as a Council is very much about opening up and encouraging new opportunities to create a truly vibrant city and city region, attractive to new players. We will continue to support the growth of those local businesses that have played such an important role in the development of our economic strength to date.
“This new Virgin Trains service, connecting Stirling directly with the UK capital, is very much the kind of ambitious innovation we welcome.”
The service launch marks an early step in ambitious plans to transform rail services to Scotland after Virgin Trains began operations on the east coast route in March.
A new fleet of 65 faster, greener, more comfortable trains will be introduced by Virgin Trains on the east coast from 2018, allowing it to provide more seats, accelerate journeys and attract more people to rail.
Stirling is the fifth of Scotland’s seven cities to benefit from an early-morning Virgin Trains service to London. Next May Edinburgh will gain a further five services, with departures for King’s Cross leaving every half hour for most of the day.
A new direct return service connecting Sunderland to London was also launched by Virgin Trains this morning.
Warrick Dent, Safety and Operations Director for Virgin Trains on the east coast, said: “This is exciting day for us as we connect another of Scotland’s cities with a direct, early-morning service to London and start our journey to transform passenger services to Scotland.
“We’ve been really encouraged by the feedback from people in Stirling, particularly among businesses who have told us how much they value having this additional service, which will get them to and from London faster and without having to change trains.”
Mike Cantlay, Chairman of VisitScotland said: “From the UK’s capital city to Scotland’s heritage capital, this new direct service from London to Stirling is great news for Scottish tourism.
“Londoners will be able to escape the stresses of daily life to discover this beautiful historic city with its spectacular castle, cobbled streets and Renaissance churches and mansions. Visitors can also awaken their inner Braveheart with a trip to the National Wallace Monument or soak up the atmospheric Bannockburn battlefield which includes a centre that harnesses 3D technology to bring the epic Scottish Wars of Independence to life.
“We look forward to welcoming even more visitors to both Stirling and Falkirk with this exciting new service.”
Ross Martin, Chief Executive of Scottish Council for Development and Industry, added:
"Inter City Connectivity is a crucial element of SCDI's mission - driving economic growth - and this announcement represents another great step forward, linking Stirling directly to London.
Living in Larbert, just a nine minute local train trip away, this new intercity service will make a huge difference to me personally, making my engagement with Westminster and the City of London, on behalf of our wide and diverse membership, so much easier, quicker and more comfortable.”
One of the passengers onboard the first service who expects to be a regular passenger in the months ahead is John McNally, MP for Falkirk.
He said: “I usually get the train down to London on Sunday to get to Westminster. Having the early morning direct departure from Falkirk means travel to London on the Monday will be a much simpler option,” he said.
“Being able to work onboard means I can get ready for the week in London on the way there. It’s also really positive to see Scotland supported by strong rail links to England.”