Sunday, 7 February 2010

Friday 5 February

Final working day and a return to the Coleshill Parkway - London Euston via Nuneaton route as I had noticed that the xx.35 CrossCountry service to Nuneaton gets you into Euston in 99 minutes by changing at Nuneation and Rugby.

Caught the slightly late running 11.35 CrossCountry Class 170 which, being a Stanstead Airport service, conveys a refreshment trolley (or 'full at-seat service' as the web site describes it...). Although I didn't want a drink on the short hop to Nuneation, I was disappointed to find that I would have been expected to purchase one...

Comfortable connection time for the change - Platform 7 to Platform 5 - to the ontime 12.02 Class 350 to Euston. The quiet First Class compartment was taken over by a group of students who were smilingly evicted by the guard shortly after departure.

They did not protest, unlike Brian Viner in Thursday's Independent who wrote a typical anti-rail column after seemingly feeling aggrieved at actually being challenged for sitting in First Class whilst carrying a standard class ticket on a Birmingham - London Pendolino. The column is full of classic exaggerations - a good example being his own 'without too much exaggeration' comment: 'first-class upgrades on Britain's railways can cost anything between £15 and £1,650,417' - yet it will no doubt be cited by all those who prefer to rundown the rail service rather than marvel at what it does deliver in the constraints that the ownership system has imposed.

On time arrival at Rugby gave a same platform connection into the 12.24 Pendolino to Euston. Quickly served with coffee /tea followed up by the drinks trolley and the lunchtime choice: chicken curry pie or cheese ploughman's and strawberry crumble or fruit. WiFi worked fine, and, yet again, an ontime arrival...

Being Friday, the First Class lounge was busy. Plenty of drinks available but no food other than some apples. As I was planning to return on a peak Pendolino to try out the hot food evening menu, I took myself off to the King's Cross / St Pancras area to enjoy the transformations that are taking place there (ranging from the British Library and St Pancras to the Central St Martin's Kings Cross Campus). Found 'Eleven Minutes Late' by Matthew Engel in Foyles at St Pancras which seemed to be an appropriate book to buy.

Back to a packed First Class lounge at 4.30pm so took myself off to the much quieter Coffee lounge which had hot and soft drinks and biscuits on offer. I suspect that the Friday night attraction of the main lounge is the alcoholic bar given the number of passengers grouped around it.

Was going to ctach the 17.03 back to Birmingham but once on board, it was announced that there would be no hot food service due to a techical fault. As it was assured that there would be hot food on the 17.23, I decamped to this train which was ready to board almost straight away.

A failure to download seat reservations for this train was causing some confusion but there were actually plenty of first class seats free anyway (at least in Coach G). The hot food menu turned out to be Smoked Fish in Sauce or Vegetarian Risotto. I had the Risotto which was served efficiently in a bowl. Quite appetising but not particularly exciting, but then there is only an hour in which to serve it and get cleared away...

Coffee / tea, drinks and an apple completed my meal experience. Arrival in Birmingham was on time - how boring for the critics.

So endec a fascinating week but for one final surprise. On Saturday, I had, with my family, an occasion to use the LondonMidland local service to Hampton-in-Arden. Of course, the Season Ticket covers this journey (and my daughter has a Centro Term Ticket) but my wife was expecting to pay a normal day return fare (all of £3.80). However, the (LondonMidland)ticket staff at New Street's Victoria Square entrance - who, incidently, must have the worst working conditions on the Station - insisted she could travel for a £1 as a 'family & friend' of a season ticket holder.

This helpful treatment was enhanced by the guard on the train (I won't name which one as I don't wat him to be in trouble) who insisted we all travel Frist Class for the short journey as noone was using the compartment.

So, if I was giving out awards, LondonMidland's staff would definitely be top of the list not only for yesterday and for the condition of Nuneation (see Thursday's blog), but for their general good humour and helpfulness across the week.

Commendations too for Virgin and Wrexham & Shropshire staff, and, of course, to all the unseen staff who keep the trains running.

Back in March with the Standard Class experience - looking forward to it already!

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