Virgin Pendolino

June 16th, 2011

UPDATE: 25/8/16 Following the Corbyn silly season story I’ve had another look at the seating plans five years on. See end of article. The article below no longer applies because Virgin have altered the balance between 1st and 2nd class seats on the trains.

I had my first ride in a Virgin Pendolino recently, standard class (as we kept being told on the tannoy – there’s nothing like being repeatedly reminded you’re a pleb), forward facing and aisle, aircraft seating, quiet carriage.  On the plus side the ride was comfortable, quiet and fast. On the minus side it was like sitting inside a small aircraft with 2+2 seating, with the luggage inside the cabin, and insufficient luggage racks at that, and in the wrong place.

The Virgin business model which appears to be to promote more affluent customers at the expense of cattle class was never more evident than on the Pendolino.  The frequent P.A. invitation to “upgrade to First Class for £15” which I didn’t mind, was accompanied by a form of words that emphasised the “complimentary drinks” in First Class and would have been acceptable had it not been for the repeated and entirely gratuitous use of the phrase “standard class”.

Now train travellers are not stupid, they know when they buy a ticket that is not First Class that they will get a seat on a train and hopefully reach their destination safely, and they are only too well aware that paying extra is likely to result in a more spacious seat in a more comfortable environment.

However, the Tannoy announcement repeatedly used the phrase “for those in Standard Class” as if we were third class cattle truck passengers from the days of the Rocket, in open trucks on wooden slatted benches.  I found it patronising, unnecessary and insulting all in one.

This has changed as I write (2016)

If this is Virgin’s way of getting more business for the many First Class carriages then good luck to them, but it’s not one I’d recommend, and I strongly encourage them to think again.  Frankly it stinks.

The truth is they’ve got too many First Class seats for the train.  Of nine carriages, four are First Class and five Standard, with 145 and 294 seats respectively.  They have gone for the First Class market but can’t fill them.  I have no idea what the ratio is on other carriers but 1 in 3 seems high, especially at a time of austerity.  The problem Virgin have is the make up of their trains and it would cost money to rejig the carriages.  See seating plan here.

A stocky guy got on a Carlisle and had the inside seat next to me, he must have felt squashed because the seats are narrow, I did mark a copy of a newspaper with the width but this so far eludes me so I’m going to say 16″ to 17″ between the armrests which isn’t a lot.  In order to feel comfortable, and not to make contact with my neighbour, I had to sit with my shoulder outside the line of the seat which meant I got clobbered from time to time by passing bags.

The luggage rack is too small and in the wrong place in the centre of the carriage.  It ought to be near the doors so that people don’t have to cart their bags past other passengers.   Owing to the compact interior (crash proofing?) the luggage rack space overhead is pretty mean too.

As a result there was a considerable amount of consternation at stations with the result that luggage blocked the aisle. This was not a local service.  This was Glasgow-London where people are likely to be carrying luggage, not just a briefcase.

If you’re tall or stocky it’s not going to be fun.  I’m sure it’s fine for slim people but the average girth is growing and it’s already on the cramped side. However in fairness to Virgin I will say that the seat pitch seemed ok, I’m tall and my knees were not scraping the seat back in front.

I read the blogs before writing this one chap says he’s 6’4″ and doesn’t find them claustrophobic.  Well all I can say it you’re welcome to them, I’ll think twice next time.


I’m 6ft 4in and have never felt claustrophobic on any train whatsoever. I think Pendolinos are a fantastic ride in standard, and I’m trying First for the first ever time from Carlisle to Crewe in July, so am rather looking forward to that.

Think they’re great units though.

I’ve been reminded that I had a good run to Bristol and back recently with FGW and that train was wonderful.  Comfortable seats, good view from the windows, spacious layout (OK I had one of the “priority” seats) but even so the seat pitch was OK elsewhere too.

What do I think about the Pendolino?  I think it’s a quiet, comfortable ride that is like being in a short haul jet with 2+2 seating and the luggage in the aisles.  However if I wanted that experience I’d fly, and without the luggage blocking the aisle.  If I get on a train I want it to feel like a train, not Concorde.

So there you are.  A range of views from which to choose.  I’ll stick to the East Coast. You’ve got Durham, the coastal run near Berwick on Tweed and larger windows on that route, not to mention more space.  Happy travelling.

UPDATE: Article read by today 4th April 2012, a company who design train interiors.  Let’s hope it does some good.

UPDATE: 13/4/12 Somebody wants to know “Virgin trains overhead luggage dimensions” from a Google search.  I can answer that in one word – tiny.   There’s not much room for anything overhead in the Pendolino carriage.

UPDATE: This is Owen Hatherley in Building Design on the Pendolino and the malls that constute new stations:-

Yet, much as Virgin’s Pendolino trains try to replicate the cramped, gut-churning, view-free experience of budget flight on what would otherwise be perfectly enjoyable train journeys to Glasgow and Manchester, so new stations take the airport-mall as model.

Matthew Harbon

15 November 2012 12:19PM

What the DfT are suggesting is a class between First and Standard, like business or premium economy on planes. Not a lower class. Nothing will change apart from maybe a few larger seats at the front of standard. It isn’t needed on a train, but it should only be used on long distance trains, such as Virgin, as they have a ridiculous amount of First Class

[ . . . ] travelling in a Pendolino is like serving on a small submarine with bilge difficulties [ . . . ]

UPDATE: 25/8/16

The Virgin East Coast Mallards don’t suffer from what I experienced in 2011, the seating plan shows three first and six standard rather than the four first and five standard on the West Coast in 2011.

The Virgin East Coast HST seating plan shows three first and seven standard class carriages.

The Virgin West Coast updated seating plan may be downloaded here

2 Responses to “Virgin Pendolino”

  1. Mike Hughes Says:

    I railed against the nastiness of the Pendolino in a far more emotive way in my own blog, so thanks for the more objective approach – and the confirmation they really did make some schoolboy errors.

    I don’t know if this and other blogs will do any good, as Priestman Goode are the designers who gave us the Pendolino interior we have today, and one has to wonder if they learned anything from their experience.

    Their website still waxes lyrical about the Pendo, as opposed to raising their hand and admitting “Mea Culpa” to being involved in designing one of the more unpleasant travel experiences to hit Britain’s rails.

  2. Pin Ball Says:

    I detest the Pendolinos precisely because they are so bloody claustrophobic, and I am not tall or lanky either. I hate the way they are designed, with windows so small you have to duck to be able to look out of them (and that’s when you;re SEATED fer fuggsakes!), plus, worst of all, and MOST HEINOUS in my view, two things: the air conditioning is inconsistent and always inadequate from coach to coach….and there are seats that don’t even have window views at all – which are usually always left unoccupied. I cannot believe that the designers of these trains were so bloody arrogant as to assume that every passenger who pays an arm and a leg for the privilege of travelling on these abominations does not need to look out of a window. Clearly a lot of our modern trains these days are designed and fitted by complete and utter plebs.

    (I have been a seasoned train traveller for over 35 years now and I have seen the gradual decline in the standard of good train design as ‘market forces’ and ‘bullshit ergonomics’ seemingly take control of everything…. if you want a decent and very pleasant train interior – then check out the vastly superior and spacious – and well-ventilated – saloon interiors of the class 175 and class 180 rolling stock)

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