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Virgin Trains’ partnership with Great Exhibition of the North unveiled

Press release   •   Sep 14, 2017 12:11 BST

David Horne, Managing Director of Virgin Trains on its east coast route (left), welcomes Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, and Sir Gary Verity, Chair of the Great Exhibition of the North Project Board, to Newcastle station

Virgin Trains has been unveiled as a premier partner of next year’s Great Exhibition of the North, which takes place in NewcastleGateshead from 22 July – 09 September 2018.

The rail operator is the first major sponsor to be announced for the Government-backed Exhibition celebrating art and culture, design and innovation from across the North of England.

Virgin Trains is planning to launch the first of its new state-of-the-art fleet of Virgin Azuma trains into service in the year of the Great Exhibition of the North. The fleet of 65 Virgin Azuma trains will transform train travel along Virgin’s east coast route, which connects Scotland and the North with the capital, by providing more services, and faster and more comfortable journeys.

Sir Gary Verity, Chair of the Great Exhibition of the North Project Board, said: “As one of the UK’s biggest travel brands, we’re delighted to welcome Virgin Trains onboard as premier partners of Great Exhibition of the North.

“2018 will see Virgin Trains transform rail travel for millions of people with the introduction of its new, innovative, Virgin Azuma trains; manufactured right here in the North by Hitachi.

“Visitors to Great Exhibition of the North will be able to see first-hand the North’s role in revolutionising rail travel. From the birth of the railways and Stephenson’s Rocket, which will be on display at The Discovery Museum in Newcastle, right to the present day with the arrival of Virgin Train’s Azuma fleet on the East Coast Main Line.”

David Horne, Managing Director of Virgin Trains on its east coast route, said: “We’re delighted to sponsor this exciting and important exhibition. Our new Virgin Azuma trains are being built in the North East, and the exhibition itself celebrates design and innovation in the North.

“We’re pleased to back the region's strengths in innovation and enterprise, and look forward to our new fleet transforming train travel, and significantly improving this region’s connectivity with other parts of the UK.”

Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “I am delighted to welcome Virgin Trains as a premier partner to the Great Exhibition of the North 2018.

“Its new Azuma fleet will be rolled out on the East Coast route next year, transforming travel for passengers, and supporting tourism between London, the North East and Scotland. It is great news that Virgin Trains shares our vision and will be part of this unique celebration of Northern art, design and innovation.”

Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, said: “I am extremely pleased that Virgin Trains East Coast are to be a premier partner for the Great Exhibition of the North 2018. They are a first-class example of a northern investor and employer with their new Azuma trains built by Hitachi’s factory in County Durham.

“Cultural projects like the Exhibition are at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse and I’m looking forward to the celebration of all things northern in NewcastleGateshead next year.”

The Great Exhibition of the North 2018 is a summer of amazing exhibits, inspired technology, vibrant street performance, cutting edge culture and magical experiences, all celebrating the great art and culture, design and innovation born out of the North of England.

Taking place in NewcastleGateshead from 22 June to 09 September 2018, Great Exhibition of the North is set to be the biggest event in England next year. Telling the dynamic story of the North – how its innovators, artists and designers shape our present and are inspiring our future – three million people are expected to interact with Great Exhibition of the North.

Major exhibition hubs at Great North Museum: Hancock and on Gateshead Quays (BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead) will feed three walking routes telling the dynamic story of the North; the ‘Seeing in Wonder’ art route, ‘Thinking in Style’ design route and ‘Dreaming in WOW’ innovation route.

NewcastleGateshead’s world-class venues and unique outdoor spaces will showcase exciting ideas from across the North.

This once in a lifetime, must-see event is free and family friendly. Opening with the spectacular ‘Get North’ weekend on the 22nd June, it finishes in style with the world-famous Great North Run and the powerful ‘Creating the Future’ closing weekend.

A video of Karen Bradley and David Horne speaking about the announcement is available to view, here:

For more information visit


Notes to editors:

  • For more information and to register for updates visit
  • The Great Exhibition of the North will showcase the incredible creative, cultural and design sectors across the whole of the North. It was first announced by Government in April 2016 and a competition was launched to secure £5m of government funding for a two-month exhibition
  • In October 2016, NewcastleGateshead was selected to host the Great Exhibition of The North; NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI) led the bid and is the lead delivery partner for the Exhibition, working closely with colleagues at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, BALTIC, Sage Gateshead, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and a project board chaired by Sir Gary Verity
  • The NewcastleGateshead programme for the Great Exhibition of the North 2018 will span 10 weeks, opening over the weekend of the 22 June 2018. It will celebrate innovation and creativity across Northern England and will help boost investment and tourism, while leaving a lasting cultural and economic legacy
  • Ambitious plans will use the whole destination as the stage, with a newly commissioned creative programme taking place in a range of venues and outdoor spaces across NewcastleGateshead
  • Three walking routes will be created, focusing on arts, design and innovation that will inspire and be inspired by a major exhibition hub at the Great North Museum: Hancock (curated by our partners at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums); major new work commissioned by BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead
  • Other important elements of The Great Exhibition of the North 2018 include inspiring opening and closing events, an entertaining and informative summer camp at Exhibition Park for families (part of an extensive learning and engagement programme) and a Business Expo
  • The Great Exhibition of the North is supported by Premier Partners, Virgin Trains
  • NewcastleGateshead Initiative is a destination management and marketing agency; a public-private partnership supported by Gateshead and Newcastle City Councils, working with around 170 private sector partner organisations. Its mission is to inspire people to visit, and to live, learn work and invest in NewcastleGateshead and the wider region
  • United by seven bridges across a spectacular riverscape, Newcastle (a city on the north bank of the River Tyne) and Gateshead (a town on the south bank) form a single, diverse and extremely vibrant visitor destination. World-class culture, vibrant nightlife, award-winning dining, inspiring heritage, fantastic shopping and acclaimed architecture are combined here like nowhere else, by the famous Geordie spirit which is symbolised by Antony Gormley’s iconic Angel of the North as it welcomes travellers to the area

About Virgin Trains:

Stagecoach and Virgin are working in partnership to operate the East Coast and West Coast inter-city routes under the Virgin Trains brand. Together, they are on track to revolutionise rail travel across the UK.

The combined network connects some of the nation’s most iconic destinations including Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, York and London.

Virgin Trains is committed to delivering a high speed, high frequency service, offering shorter journey times, more comfortable travel and excellent customer service. Customers consistently rate Virgin Trains as one of the top long-distance rail franchise operators in the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) commissioned by industry watchdog, Transport Focus.

On the East Coast route, £140m is being invested to create a more personalised travel experience. We have already invested over £40m in our existing fleet, including £21m refurbishing the interiors and £16m towards improving the engines of our trains. Customers can now benefit from 42 additional services between Edinburgh and London every week, and an extra 22 Saturday services between Leeds and London – a total of 1.74 million additional seats since May 2016. 2018 will see the introduction of completely new Azuma trains being built in the UK by Hitachi.

The West Coast route has a proud record of challenging the status quo - from introducing tilting Pendolino trains, to a pioneering automated delay repay scheme and becoming the first franchised rail operator to offer m-Tickets for all ticket types.

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