When Virgin Rail Group took over the Inter City West Coast franchise on March 9, 1997, the Train Operating Company (TOC) inherited a fleet of locomotive hauled British Rail Mark II and Mark III coaching stock, as well as British Rail Mark III Driving Van Trailers (DVT) and High Speed Train (HST) Mark III coach sets. These vehicles were in use on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) electric services, as well as the HST hauled London Euston to Holyhead routes.
Virgin’s franchise agreement included the commitment to replace the existing main line trains with tilting stock and the introduction of the Class 390 Pendolinos in January 2003 led to the withdrawal of locomotive hauled trains on the WCML by June 2005. On the Holyhead services, the intention was to replace the HST Mark III sets with Class 221 Super Voyagers from September 2004, but in both circumstances, the Mark III stock continued in service as cover across the various routes.
On the Holyhead services, the Super Voyagers were found to be too short and so Mark III sets were pressed into use as a stop-gap measure, hauled by Class 47 and Class 90 locomotives until September 2005. On the WCML, modifications to the Pendolinos in 2006 led to a Mark III set being introduced on Birmingham New Street services, hauled by a Class 87, while following the Greyrigg accident on February 23, 2007, another Mark III set was pushed into service on the WCML, being hauled by a Class 90 and tailed with a DVT.
The swansong for Mark III coaches under Virgin came with the formation of a refurbished Mark III set that came to be known as the Pretendolino set. Re-upholstered seating, power points, Wi-Fi and a full repaint took place at Wabtec’s Doncaster facility and the set entered service on Friday London Euston to Crewe services until December 2012, then on Thursday and Friday London Euston to Birmingham New Street services between December 2013 to October 2014.