Monday, 1 February 2010

Monday 1st February 2010

7.50am - present myself at Birmingham New Street ticket office (staffed by Virgin Trains) and ask for a First Class seven day season from Tame Bridge Parkway to London Terminals, any permitted route. Am told that I needn't specify 'any permitted route' which I'm sure is news to LondonMidland who would wish me to buy their (much) cheaper LM only season... Anyway, the price of £353.10 is still a bargain.

8am - partake of the hospitality of New Street's First Class lounge. Good range of refreshments including cereals on offer, along with the FT and the Independent. Toilet clean too, but the room looks rather 'tired' (peeling prints on the wall etc) though no doubt the new New Street will see this cramped area improved.

8.25am - join the 8.30 Pendolino in Quiet Coach H. No sign of the free newspapers promised on the Virgin Trains site ( and I can't get the WiFi to work. Neither the Train Manager nor the Service Manager can say why (turns out I had failed to open my browser and login - oops). Coffee/tea, orange juice, scrambled eggs & salmon start the day well. On time arrival at Euston. Tour the far superior First Class lounges...

Walk over to Marylebone for the 11.20 Wrexham& Shropshire to Leamington Spa - that I was expecting to be a highlight. Nicely refurbished first class coach though it has lost the 'old-world' charm of the original borrowed stock, and I'm not sure that I would rate the toilet as 'four-star hotel standard' as claimed ( Alas, my biggest disappointment was that meals are NOT served to passengers getting off at Leamington Spa despite the wording of the web site 'The complimentary meal service is available to all first class passengers crossing ... Leamington Spa (when travelling North) ( Still, I was offered a choice of soups by way of compensation!

Considering that a First Class Single to Leamington Spa would have cost me £72, and that Virgin can serve their meals in a 82 minute time slot when W&S timings are 88 minutes, I found this very strange.

Arrived on time at Leamington and crossed over for the 13.00 to Reading. Actually on time, and the Voyager First Class coach was reasonably quiet. Was offered tea/coffee, pretzels and crisps immediately upon leaving Leamington BUT despite there being a Menu Card on the table, no further refreshments were offered...

Arrived on time at Reading so made the 14.08 FGW HST to Paddington. Made the mistake of hurrying to the London end for the First Class coaches only to be told on departure that there would be no first class refreshments due to 'shortage of stock' and that the Refreshment Trolley would only be serving coaches A & B!

Fortunately, an on-time arrival and Paddington's wonderful if idiosyncratic First Class lounge made up for FGW's on-board failings. Strange lounge to enter as the first room was full of people on quite uncomfortable looking chairs looking in silence at Sky News... yet beyond there are quiet rooms with real leather armchairs and settees - and the refreshments are better even than those at Euston.

Finally, back to Birmingham on the 15.23 Pendolino. This time there was definitely no WiFi in Quiet Coach H and again the staff couldn't help. Apart from that, the journey was fast, service was courteous and efficient, and the Lite Bites fine (brie & cranberry roll plus chocolate cake). Arrival once again on time.

So, in total, a brilliant example of how good the TOCs running between Birmingham and London are at keeping to time and at keeping their trains clean and comfortable. Each TOC has still not got everything right, and I look forward to seeing how the rest of the week measures up to a good start...

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