Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Tuesday 2nd February

After two return journeys yesterday, I thought I take matters more gently today so turned up at New Street for the 8.39 LondonMidland service to Tame Bridge Parkway. It was running late, so I consoled myself with a quick visit to the First Class lounge which I had to admit looked less 'tired' - perhaps I was just more awake!

The 8.39 finally rolled up 10 minutes late, and, I'm pretty sure, then followed the 0847 stopping local meaning that I arrived at Tame Bridge Parkway at 915... fortunately, the 905 Wrexham & Shropshire was running 10 minutes late due to signalling problems earlier so the train manager had the delight of seeing me running down the ramp!

I was the only First Class passenger to join at Tame Bridge (and none joined at Leamington or Banbury). The coach was nicely full (ie one person per 4 seat table) but there was a two seat table free. An offer of tea quickly followed which arrived (a POT not just a mug - Virgin please note) as I set up my laptop. WiFi is a dream to set up on the W&S - again, something that Virgin could check out...

Then, the BIG question: would I be offered breakfast? According to the company's website 'The complimentary meal service is available to all first class passengers crossing ... Tame Bridge Parkway (when travelling South)' which, after my experience yesterday, would suggest NO. However, an offer of a Full Breakfast was made and gratefully accepted.

What a breakfast! Freshly cooked with tasty bacon rashers, a sausage, hash browns, tomatoes, mushrooms, scrambled eggs, and a portion of black pudding, along with 6 half-slices of toast with real butter and jam / marmalade and a refresh of the teapot... AND then after Leamington, an offer of a Danish pastry...

So my optimism regarding my experience of the W&S was restored: good food, comfortable seating, brilliantly helpful staff, WiFi which worked straight away, and, of course, the Warwickshire countryside and the Chilterns.

Quibbles? No newspapers; the train ended up being 15 minutes late; I'm still not convinced by the claim for the toilet (see below); and, of course, my meal experience on the train yesterday (about which I have written to W&S).

Decided to walk to Paddington along the Regents Canal though not in expectation of needing to work up a new appetite for my return leg.

Revisited the First Class lounge there which is definitely the best of the three (though closely followed by Euston) on this travel circuit. Once more, a good selection of hot and cold drinks, nibbles, fruit, biscuits, and, being lunchtime, sandwiches. Realised today that this favoured location was actually the former Royal waiting room!

Pity FGW & CrossCountry can't match this pleasure on their trains. Left Paddington on the 13.06 HST to Plymouth and had a good fast run to Reading. The refurbished leather seats in First Class are very comfortable and the ambience is nice (and quiet). BUT, no first class host nor refreshments.

No problem connecting with the 13.41 CrossCountry to Newcastle. Only one in First Class. No menu card but was offered a newspaper (The Times), and a drink & biscuit immediately on departure. Left the train at Oxford for 'research' purposes (see below) and restarted my return on the 1507. Slightly busier First Class with Menu Cards. First Class host immediately offered tea and later came round again to see if another was required. BUT no mention of food.

Fell into conversation with a fellow season ticket holder. His experience was that 'breakfast' was usually forthcoming but nothing else later in the day unless one made a fuss. His view was that CrossCountry were busy cost-cutting whilst continuing to hike his fare (Wolverhampton-Oxford 1st class 7 day £229.60!).

There is no WiFi on CrossCountry BUT there is enhanced Orange Mobile - something to bear in mind when choosing a USB dongle (of course, I'm on Vodafone so had little signal for most of this journey).

One of my hypothesis for my Birmingham-London web site was that CrossCountry and FGW combined actually offered a competitive hourly service (c 120 mins both ways if the trains are chosen carefully) with reasonable First Class provision. Sadly, although the timings have proved robust (well, at least over two days), the customer service hasn't. Will be interested in any response from CrossCountry or FGW.

Finally, back to the toilets on the W&S. Being a Morse fan, I was sure that the Randolph in Oxford was at least a four-star hotel (in fact it is 5 stars), so decided to check out W&S's assertion there. I can report that a 5 star hotel 'public' gents has Kleenex tissues, 'soft' paper towels as well as a hand dryer, and bottles of soap and hand lotion. Interestingly, the colour scheme is black and white giving a similar effect to the W&S enhancement of what looks to me like a souped-up Voyager disabled toilet. Don't get me wrong, I think the W&S toilet is very good but four-star???

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