Virgin Trains have released a celebrity-filled music video featuring Sir Richard Branson starting a party to mark the operator’s departure from Britain’s railways.
A host of familiar faces from the 1990s to present day joined train staff in celebrating the firm’s tenure as the longest-running rail franchise by re-enacting the famous lift scene from movie Dirty Dancing.
The stars include Noel Edmonds’s former sidekick Mr Blobby, actor Shaun Williamson who played Barry in EastEnders, footballer turned pundit Chris Kamara and drag queen Anna Phylactic.
They enjoy a party on board a Virgin Trains service operating a “final journey” from 1997 to 2019.
Virgin Trains has run services on the West Coast Main Line since March 1997 but the franchise is being handed to First Trenitalia on December 8.
Almost 500 million journeys have been made with Virgin Trains, which is owned by Sir Richard’s Virgin Group (51%) and Stagecoach (49%).
The firm’s bid to continue running trains on the line was disqualified by the Department for Transport (DfT) in a row over pensions.
The companies are suing the DfT over its decision.
Virgin Trains recorded the highest passenger satisfaction rating of any franchised train operator in Britain in the most recent survey by watchdog Transport Focus.
Sir Richard said: “Virgin Trains has led the UK rail industry for over 20 years, delivering faster journeys, ground-breaking innovation and award-winning customer service.
“Our 3,500 people are at the heart of the business and are the stars of this video, which celebrates the amazing work they have done to become the top-rated franchise in the UK today.
“We’ve had the time of our life serving our customers and wanted to celebrate the fun we have had with them since 1997.”
When the end of the franchise was announced, Sir Richard wrote in a blog post that he was “devastated”, adding that he wanted the operator to continue “for many more years”.
Virgin Trains has nearly trebled passenger numbers on its routes.
It has also launched a series of innovations including automatic compensation payments for delays, an entertainment system allowing passengers to stream films and TV programmes on demand using their own devices, and making digital tickets available for all fare types.
Virgin Trains managing director Phil Whittingham said: “Of course we’re extremely sad that Virgin Trains is disappearing as a train operator, but we wanted to leave as we entered: by having fun.
“We’re immensely proud of our track record over more than two decades and hope our customers enjoyed travelling with us as much as we enjoyed serving them.”