More than 15,000 people have applied to drive Virgin Trains’ new state-of-the art Azuma trains following the rail operator’s biggest recruitment drive on the popular east coast route since the 1980s.

The response – equivalent to nearly 200 applications for each of the 78 posts – comes as Virgin Trains gears up for the launch of the new fleet on the London to Scotland route in 2018.

The new drivers will work from depots between London and Edinburgh, and will start a year-long training programme in January 2017. They can expect to earn around £57,000 once qualified, according to industry sources.

“We have received a huge amount of interest in this fantastic opportunity at Virgin Trains on its east coast route,” a spokesperson for Virgin Trains said.

Applications closed on 14 October and the spokesperson said those who got through the first stages of the process would be invited to attend a selection day, which will include a variety of assessments and exercises.

They added that it was too early to give a breakdown of applications, but that the company had taken steps to encourage “a diverse range” of applicants.

Applicants had to be over 21 (the case for anyone applying to be a train driver) and living, or willing to relocate to, within an hour’s travel from the five depots – Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Doncaster or London King’s Cross.

Over the course of a year, the selected trainees will take part in a mix of classroom-based and on-the-job learning at different locations on the east coast route. Modules will range from track safety, understanding operational route risks and emergency situations to getting to know the train they will be driving.

When they launch in 2018, the 65 Azuma trains, built in the UK by Hitachi, will be among the most advanced trains in the country’s rail network.

Named after the Japanese word for “east”, the Azuma will initially reach speeds of up to 125mph. With 65 trains providing an extra 12,200 seats for an expanded timetable, the fleetwill increase capacity into King’s Cross by 28% during peak time.

It is not the first time a train driver recruitment effort has triggered a huge response. In 2015, more than 23,000 people applied for 100 driver jobs paying up to £43,000 with operator ScotRail.

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