Trains of thought from a virgin traveller
Being something of a virgin to train travel I recently wrote a piece about my experiences on the Wrexham and Shropshire train service for travel to London from Telford – a week or so ago I got to experience Virgin Trains in all its glory, oh dear, oh very dear.
Here is an experiment – think First Class travel for a moment and let me know what sumptuous images jump to mind – looks good doesn’t it? Now, before I get started I want you to know First Class travel is usually way out of my budget (especially on the airlines), however for a two hour plus rail trip to London – First Class when booked in Advance can just about be in reach (though still a substantial sum of money).
So, I opted for an Advance ticket using the Virgin Train service and for some reason, when booking the travel on the Virgin website, a number of travel options were not displaying correctly on the browser (website or IE8 issue?) for the Virgin Trains website which meant I ended up needing to change trains at Birmingham International when I would really have preferred somewhere a little nearer. I was hoping to change at Wolverhampton making a short hop trip from Telford to Wolverhampton then settling down to enjoy the scenery for a few hours heading off to London. After speaking on the customer helpline for a while I gave up and opted to stick with the plan as presented – after all, the return journey was the key for me after a busy day and that would change at Wolverhampton.
So there I was, at Telford Central, waving goodbye to the kids. Things didn’t go well when the first train was late by ten minutes (a lot of waving even for the kids). I had to stand for most of the trip because I couldn’t find my reserved seat and I would soon find that because the train was late I would have only moments to catch the train from Birmingham International to London Euston – however, when I got there the onward train was not. I raced up to the ticket desk to find out what was going on and to tell them all about the delay and they told me “Well the London Train has been cancelled anyway.” – What? The desk clerk almost made this sound normal. Apparently, I was in luck though with it being cancelled as I could catch the next train – luck? The assumption here must be that if I was simply late then I would not be allowed to catch the next train?
The train experience was interesting – I found a seat (the seats on this train were not reservable) and settled down – the seat was really quite comfortable. I waited twenty minutes before I saw sight of a steward to get a drink (or check my ticket), then I saw a sign for wireless internet and connected to the Internet but Google decided I was in Germany (something to do with the T-Mobile hotspot?) so everything was in German and I seemingly could not change it. Not to worry, at least there is lunch – a cheese bap and a wrapped slice of cake (not quite up to Greggs standards). I couldn’t help thinking of the food and service on offer on the Wrexham and Shropshire – I could be tucking in to a hot meal right now.
At least the travel was relatively quick and comfortable. I reached London and rushed off in the baking heat to my appointment (more fun playing on the Tube – I stood on someone’s foot – sorry about that) to see Toshiba and their new ultra-light laptop and new Netbook. Heaven knows what they must have thought when I got there hurried and dripping with sweat but I had made it – it didn’t feel as much like first class travel to me but as a challenge – I half expected to see Anneka appear from around the corner with a clue in hand. I settled down and frankly had an interesting time talking technology with the people from Toshiba who really seem to have a passion about building laptops.
Upon my return I had a few hours with which to busy myself. I queued up for twenty minutes to ask if I could get an earlier train and was told it would cost almost twice as much as I had paid (Advance) so I elected to wait in the First Class lounge. The sign heading in to the lounge said in huge letters “So many biscuits … so little time” – there were about a dozen tiny wrapped shortbreads, two bags of olives, and about five slices of some kind of sponge cake which all disappeared quickly and they didn’t get refilled until it was time for me to leave. And it was really busy in there – I mean really busy (and noisy). The television wasn’t working properly and had a fuzzy picture and the coffee machine was questionable as it had a message on its display pleading to be cleaned – it still said it when I left fourty minutes later when I saw a little drip of coffee emerge which I swear was desperate cry for help). I decided to head off down to the station instead and buy the kids a few London gifts – I was surprised at how few gift shops there were at the station.
I climbed aboard the train and tried to find my reserved seat (I had booked the quiet zone). Then I heard over the radio the train computer was playing up so our reserved seats could not be kept and to just sit anywhere (sound familiar?). Oh well. The train headed off but I have to say it was a sh…sh…shaky experience – the train shook so much I couldn’t focus on the display on my laptop and ended up having to switch it off. The steward arrived and I opted for the Salmon Salad this time (I already had the other option of a cheese bap earlier in the day). What I got was a soggy cardboard box (no plate) with a bunched up pile of soggy green and white something I couldn’t identify – in one corner. Honestly, the box was wet through – had they just pulled this salmon up from the sea? If they did it was a very small salmon. There was no dessert on offer this time – the salmon and green and white stuff was it. I was offered just one tea or coffee and didn’t see a Steward again until we got to Birmingham International when someone came along and took everything away – they told me they needed my cup so they could tidy up. I was left to travel for half of the journey with nothing – I tried the laptop again to keep busy but the train was shaking so much I gave up.
I got a call on my mobile phone from a colleague telling me my onward train from Wolverhampton had been cancelled, oh great, I found and asked a member of staff and they told me they had no information. When we pulled in to Wolverhampton – sure enough – it was cancelled. I ended up having to phone my sister again and get her to drive all the way and pick me up at Wolverhampton station (half an hour). So I paid for a journey I didn’t get, they changed my booking with abandon but wouldn’t let me change? They had my mobile number when I booked the ticket – couldn’t they at least text to tell me and offer an alternative?
As I said at the outset I don’t have a great many experience of long distance train travel and you may have had better experiences than me but this is what happened to me on this day on these services. Upon reflection, had I been on a Virgin Train prior to my Wrexham and Shropshire experience I would have realised why Wrexham and Shropshire is becoming so popular. In fact I am going back to Wrexham and Shropshire for my next upcoming trip to London.