Virgin Group is weeks away from signing an order for two new cruise ships worth several billion dollars.

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson boss is to commission the construction of two large vessels as part of ambitious plans to enter the burgeoning cruise sector.

He revealed the move in an interview with The Telegraph as Virgin Trains took over the running of the East Coast train line between London and Edinburgh.

The ships are likely to be built in a German or Italian shipyard and will take four to five years to complete, at a cost of about $1.7 billion.

“We’re in the final throes of those negotiations,” Sir Richard said.

Financial backing for Virgin Cruises, which will be based in Miami, has been secured from private equity firm Bain Capital.

Tom McAlpine, part of the management team that founded Disney Cruise Line in 1996, has been appointed to head the new Virgin cruise venture.