Leathley takes up the post on 25 October and will report to chief executive Tony Collins. He will oversee a seven-strong PR and three-strong public affairs team.
He joins from transport lobbying consultancy The Waterfront Partnership, where he has been communications director for three years, handling its clients’ relations with the media.
Prior to that, he spent ten years at The Times, four of them as transport correspondent and five as political correspondent.
Leathley replaces Denise Quest, who is understood to be relocating to Australia after six years with the firm.
But Leathley said he will have no involvement in Virgin’s bid to land the east-coast rail franchise, which has come up for renewal; incumbent GNER is a client at Waterfront.
Earlier this week, the official launch of Virgin’s high-speed Pendolino tilting trains was marred by highly publicised technical problems and subsequent delays.