Sunday, 23 August 2015

Virgin Trains withdrawal of peak time railcard easements from 6th September

One of the quirks of the Birmingham to London routes has been Virgin West Coast's easement for 16-25 & Senior railcard holders allowing the use of off-peak tickets on peak hour trains. From Sunday 6th September, this easement will be withdrawn -see this FAQ

Clearly this is bad news for those railcard holders who have been benefiting from Virgin's easement: an off-peak return fare of £34.15 will become an Anytime Return at £110.90 although Virgin do say that more Advance purchase tickets will be made available...

So what should an affected Railcard holder do? Clearly the first thing to check is that the journey needs to be at peak times for both legs. The Split Ticketing site is an essential place to start exploring the different options available - for instance, returning to Birmingham on the 16.43 from Euston is effectively off-peak by splitting the fare at Milton Keynes and Coventry.

Secondly, consider using London Midland services to / from Euston or Chiltern Railways services to / from Marylebone. Although slower, both companies' fares are much cheaper than Virgin's as their time restrictions are much less onerous.

Finally, buy your off-peak tickets now as return journeys after the 6th September will be honoured (so Virgin tell me).

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Wrexham & Shropshire - a trip down memory lane

Having written in praise of 'Wrexham & Shropshire: open access - the one that got away' last night to mark the four years since closure, I thought I would take a trip into my blog archive to see what memories my early posts would evoke...

My web site (now in abeyance) and this blog were inspired by the efforts that the W&S were making to break into the Birmingham to London market through the stop at Tame Bridge Parkway. In February 2010, I spent a week travelling First Class between the two cities on a variety of routes and services...

My first experience of the wonderful staff service on a W&S train was on my first day when travelling between Banbury & Leamington Spa. There was confusion on whether I was entitled to a meal but no hassle on being given something to eat (soup in this case). On the second day, I partook of the famed W&S breakfast  and also wrote a rather snarky comment on the W&S claim to have four-star toilets...

In March, I traveled standard class for a week so of course marveled at the difference in comfort for the W&S as opposed to the other TOC offeirngs... see and

In August, I sampled one of the 'Diverting with Doris' trains so warmly described in the book (p104-105) see Happy days but surely financially ruinous...

In December I celebrated the use of W&S stock and staff for a new Chiltern service (see not realising what it was going to lead to!

A year on from the start of my blog came the end... It really was a good year but as the book makes clear one that was not sustainable. Thanks anyway to those who made it happen.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Four years ago this week - the demise of the Wrexham & Shropshire

Four years ago, Adrian Shooter - Chairman of the Wrexham and Shropshire - was preparing to travel to Wrexham to break the news to the staff of the company that the service was to cease. The end was mercifully quick: by Friday the last train had left London Marylebone for Wrexham and a brief but glorious episode in Britain's idiosyncratic railway history was brought to a close.

I can still remember the shock of the announcement that became public on the Wednesday, and my surprise at the seeming ruthlessness that was applied in closing down the service, I had been a champion of the company: indeed, it was its existence that first started me blogging on rail journeys between Birmingham and the Capital. So I felt the loss personally and wondered if we, the travelling public, would ever know the reasons behind the closure decision.

Well, three and a half years on, Richard Harper and Gordon Rushton wrote 'Wrexham & Shropshire: open access - the one that got away' (Adlestrop Press 2014 9780957145610 £33) and, having got a copy in my Christmas stocking, some of my questions have been answered.

The authors were both intimately involved with the company at various stages of its existence so the book is hardly a dispassionate account of its history. Having said that, they bend over backwards (perhaps too far?) to try to give a balanced view of the successes and the failures of the service. Thus, the 'killer' Moderation of Competition clause that Virgin Trains invoked for the Wolverhampton stop is treated even-handedly, as is Network Rail's seeming reluctance to give access to the Stour Valley Line from there to Birmingham. Even the Department of Transport - often a scapegoat for railway anger - gets off lightly!

So what killed the company? 'Events, dear boy, events' as Harold Macmillan probably didn't say. The company was launched just as Britain was about to enter recession; the planned rolling stock didn't materialise and the replacement dedicated rolling stock was delayed; the route timings were tortuous; Virgin launched its Very High Frequency timetable with new faster trains from the West Midlands; Tame Bridge Parkway failed to deliver patronage from north Birmingham; passengers turned out to prefer speed to comfort; the list goes on...

Despite all of the above - and the feeling that runs through the book that the service should never have been launched in the first place - there is real warmth for the achievements of the dedicated staff who worked so hard to make a go of it. Every member of staff has a well-deserved potted biography and key players are given space to explain their contribution. Wonderful photographs of the trains both inside and out show the real pride that the railway generated. Innovations such as the integrated web site / social media presence with print branding along with imaginative marketing material are given proper treatment, and, of course, the meals and on-board service are lovingly described.

So, if you ever travelled on the Wrexham & Shropshire this book is a must. If you weren't so fortunate, then perhaps the book will give you a flavour of why the service was always rated so highly in the Passenger Satisfaction Surveys. Buy it and enjoy!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Split Ticketing

Barry Doe's Fare Dealer column in the latest issue of Rail (761 12-25 November 2014) rightly praises the arrival of This brilliant site allows you to check for rail fare savings on RETURN tickets as well as single journeys. Better still, there is no charge for using it...

Example splits that it suggests...

Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone (Monday-Friday)

05.15 out / 17.15 return - outward split at Banbury and Haddenham & Thame Parkway on Anytime Singles / return on a through Off-Peak Single: Saving £10.90 on the Anytime return

10.15 out / 16.47 return - off-peak return split at Bicester North saving £2.60 on the through Off-Peak return

Birmingham New Street to London Euston (Monday-Friday)

05.29 out / 16.43 return - return split at Milton Keynes and Coventry saving £22.35

10.10 out / 16.43 return - split at Coventry and Milton Keynes saving £69.55

DON'T FORGET that the services have to stop at the stations being used for the split so there is not always the flexibility you might require.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Chiltern family giveaway

Using their favourite medium of the +Metro Monday wrapround, +Chiltern Railways have announced this year's Autum half-term promotion: "buy a family ticket or travelcard to London this October half term holiday, and claim a free family weekend ticket to use in January!"

Full details at

The offer is available from 25th October - 2nd November 2014.

LondonMidland Super Off-Peak Monday-Thursday fare

Today, seemingly without fanfare*, +London Midland introduced a Monday-Thursday Super Off-Peak return fare between Birmingham and London of £18. This fare has the same restrictions as its £23 equivalent BUT of course is only valid for travel between Monday and Thursday. The £23 fare remains valid for journeys throughout the week.

Note that there is no equivalent Super Off-Peak Single but then one doesn't have to come back on a Return...

* Press notice was issued Wednesday 22nd October:

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Annual Gold Card from January 2015 - updated 26 Jan 2015

At last, the anomaly concerning the purchase of Annual Season Tickets with a Gold Card is being addressed. As readers of my blog may remember, the previous situation was that to get a Gold Card with an annual season ticket, the ticket had to be bought AND have an origin or destination station within the old Network South-East area. This meant that holders of Birmingham to London Annual Season Tickets had to buy them from London rather than Birmingham.

From January 2015, the Annual Gold Card area is being extended considerably so that any annual season ticket between stations from Birmingham to London (EXCEPT those wholly within the Network West Midlands area) is eligible for the Annual Gold Card. Full details can be found at

Good news for +Chiltern Railways and +London Midland commuters. NOTE however that Virgin Trains will NOT be accepting Annual Gold Card discounted tickets from January.

An interesting side-effect of these changes is that a Gold Card will become available for £144. This is the price of the Lichfield City - Lichfield Trent Valley Annual Season Ticket - a journey which is within the new Gold Card area. A saving of £24 on the previous lowest price annual season ticket between Ryde Esplanade and Ryde St John's Road!

Barry Doe has written a very useful overview of the usefulness of the new version of the Card in Rail 761 (12-25 November 2014)