IT was a proud moment for driver Russell Southworth, 40, as he pulled into London's Euston station at 4.32pm yesterday.

The Virgin train had become the first to go from Glasgow to London in less than four hours.

By finishing the journey in three hours 55 minutes, at an average speed of 102.5mph, the Italian-made Pendolino train beat a 25-year-old record of four hours 14 minutes set by British Rail's Advanced Passenger Train.

The delighted driver, from Preston, said afterwards: "It's been a good run.

"We had a couple of signals against us at one point and a bit of bad weather but we managed to break the record. I'm thrilled."

Yesterday's journey may have been a one-off publicity event, but Virgin hopes that regular schedules between Glasgow and London can be cut to less than four hours in the future, reducing the demand for flights between Glasgow and London.

Most timetabled journeys between the two cities, a distance of 401 miles, now take an average of five hours. However, the 9.39am train which leaves Glasgow and just stops at Carlisle and Preston, does the journey in four hours 23 minutes.

Virgin hopes the fastest train time from London to Glasgow will be able to do the journey in four hours 10 minutes by 2009 when more frequent trains will also be introduced.

In France this week there has been much celebration with the completion of the ParisStrasbourg TGV train link, a distance of 283 miles, which is the last major section in the country's super-fast network, which will slash journey times between the two cities from more than four hours to two hours 20 minutes.

A spokesman for Virgin Trains said there were big differences between the French and the British rail systems and cutting travel times so drastically would only happen in Britain if new high-speed rail lines were created.

"The French system is very creditable but what they have done over there has been based on a political decision made back in the 1980s, when the government decided to put in dedicated high-speed rail lines to link the country, " said a spokesman.

"We do not have these in this country as we have mixed rail usage with goods and passenger trains.

"Whether Britain should have high-speed rail lines is a political debate and the government has mentioned that in the past but nothing more than that. There is also the environmental issue as France is a bigger, less crowded country in terms of green space to put down high-speed rail links."

The west coast line from London to Glasgow, Britain's busiest, had suffered years of delays before a GBP7.6bn upgrade.

Overall passenger journeys on the route have increased by 40-per cent since Virgin Trains began operating the franchise and in the last 12 months there were more than 19 million passenger journeys.

Mr Pip Dunn, editor of Railways Illustrated magazine, said it was "a monumental" achievement forVirgin to do the Glasgow to London journey in less than four hours.

Mr Dunn said: "The French rail system is faster than ours but what people forget is, outwith the main rail links the system is poor. For Virgin to think they could get the regular train times down to four hours 23 minutes from Glasgow to London would be a very good achievement considering the distance.

"Virgin are right in saying that the French are ahead of us in terms of high-speed routes because their government ploughed millions into the rail system in the early 1980s.

"If the British government had done the same we would have been in the same position in terms of train times between our major cities."

One of the passengers on board was rail enthusiast Neil Ker from Ludlow, Shropshire, who was making the trip to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Mr Ker said: "Sixty years ago it took me nine hours 25 minutes and for me the excitement has been making this journey in less than four hours."

All ticket money raised on the record run - more than GBP30,000 - is going to the Heaven's Angels campaign which is supported by the Virgin Unite charity and provides specially adapted motorcycles to deliver healthcare to remote parts of Africa, where tracks are impassable for cars.

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson said: "This record run has demonstrated the real potential of the upgrading of the west coast main line and the state-of-the-art Virgin Pendolino trains.

"It has also raised more than GBP30,000 for Heaven's Angels and I would like to thank everyone who has supported the campaign."

Across the tracks

THIS is how average journey times between Glasgow and London have decreased over the years:

1849 12 hours 30 minutes

1862 10 hours 30 minutes

1888 8 hours 30 minutes

1962 7 hours 20 mins

1972 6 hours 13 mins

1982 5 hours 13 mins

1992 5 hours 24 mins

2002 5 hours 15 mins

2006 4 hours 30 minutes