Thursday, 4 February 2010

Thursday 4th February

Another day, another hypothesis to test... This time, that passengers to the east of Birmingham are as well served by the new Coleshill Parkway station and a change at Nuneaton as they would be making their way into New Street.

Left Coleshill slightly late at 8.07 in a CrossCountry 2-carriage Class 170 - the first class of which consists of one 4 seat table, one 2 seat table and three airline seats. All seats recline; there is luggage space; and the tables have power sockets and table lights. Being a short working to Leicester, there were no refreshments.

Fortunately, the 8.07 has a 25 minute connection time at Nuneaton into the 8.46 Pendolino to Euston as signalling problems on the approach to Nuneaton caused a delay. Still, a 10 minute late arrival left plenty of time to cross from the 'new' Platform 7 to an 'old' Platform 4.

Just a note of praise to LondonMidland and the station manager for the superb state of the station. Clean, fresh looking, with superb toilets on Platform 2 and the BEST printed 'destination' style timetable that I have seen (showing short codes for stations, PlusBus availability, and fast connections out of slower services such as those for London) backed up by clear announcements (Birmingham New Street take note).

The Pendolino pulled in on time and proved relatively busy (ie 1 person per four seat table in Quiet Coach H). Both the Independent and the FT could be picked up, though only if you know to look on the luggage rack at the end of the coach! Tea/coffee offered straight away, followed by the breakfast order being taken. Went for the 'full' once more which was accompanied by three slices of toast, butter and marmalade. Orange juice and a second tea round completed an enjoyable meal experience.

The staff were uniformly pleasant even though their skills were being tested by the rough riding of the Pendolino - one particularly hairy moment at Wolverton stands out - and the train ran easily to time. WiFi worked too, and the announcements were informative without being verbose.

So, a start to stop time of 103 minutes which isn't bad. Pity the walk-on return fare remains £240!

As Wrexham & Shropshire haven't replied to my email asking for clarification on meals to Leamington, I sauntered over to Paddington to give FGW / CrossCountry a chance to redeem themselves (and also to enjoy the First Class lounge once more).

Caught the 11.06 'The Mayflower' to Plymouth. What a difference a name makes! Immediately offered tea or coffee from a trolley (though I had to ask for a biscuit) and this was followed up by a look at the Travelling Chef menu (admittedly, this is a priced meal). Menu looks very varied and reasonably priced but, of course, is not actually relevant for a journey to Reading. First Class, by the way, was relatively busy but hardly crowded.

On time arrival at Reading platform 3 gave ample connection time into the 11.41 CrossCountry train to Newcastle from Platform 7. A few paasengers in first class BUT no menu cards and no sign of a First Class host and no announcements regarding the (lack of) First Class service.

Turned out that the Host was due on at Oxford, and that service would be offered after Banbury. In the meantime, the Standard Class trolley had 'parked' in the wheelchair space of the First Class carriage but clearly it wasn't this Steward's job to look after the First Class passengers!

Finally offered a choice of tea / coffee or soft drink along with a egg and cress roll or a pepperoni pizza. I plumped for the roll which was actually very good - the pizza, though hot, looked as though it was for a child.

No snacks, biscuits, fruit, or second drink offered for the rest of the journey to Birmingham. On time arrival gave a start to stop journey time of 132 minutes - ie quicker than the LondonMidland equivalent and with (sometimes) better facilities. So why don't CrossCountry and FGW co-operate to offer a first class return walk-on fare of £95 to match that of LondonMidland for what is in effect their half-hourly service during the working day??? Surely Virgin can't have blocked such competition (!) though of course it would mean that both companies would have to decide to
provide a First Class service consistently.

So day 4 ends with yet another example of how trains do run when timetabled, and do run on time. Full marks to the staff of the operating companies, to Network Rail's track and signalling / control staff, and to the train maintenance crews who work so tirelessly to make this happen.

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