Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Wednesday 3rd February

Early start as I wanted to try out Virgin's 'flagship' Pendolino service: the 7.30am from New Street which is booked to take a mere 72 minutes (does Birmingham need HS2?)However, a neighbour gave me a lift into the city so one of the key advantages of Virgin's Very High Frequency timetable came into play and I caught the 7.10 instead..

Naturally, the gremlins at New Street were out. The departure screen on Platform 2a displayed the next train as being the 7.33 to Northampton, whilst a departing XC Voyager drowned out any announcements as the Pendolino from Wolverhampton hove into view.

Quiet coach H was very quiet (though business definitely picked up at Birmingham International and Coventry) and departure was on time. Funny how the little things irritate: a member of staff walked down the carriage with a pile of Independents but instead of offering a copy to those of us she passed, she simply put the pile in the luggage rack at the far end from where we had to fetch our own. As a footnote, I noticed on the 13.23 return that a pile was similarly placed. As they are not immediately visible unless you are 'in the know', it is not surprising that many passengers don't pick one up.

WiFi worked fine this morning. There are two screens to navigate before you are logged on BUT, unlike the W&S service, you don't get asked for your personal details.

Coffee / tea and then fruit juices offered efficiently followed by a request for the breakfast choice (the choice wasn't announced beforehand on this service). I went for the Full English and was rewarded in the end - full English seemingly the last to be served - with bacon, fried egg, sausage, tomatoes, and hash browns. Almost as good as the W&S breakfast though slightly let down by being accompanied by 'only' two half slices of toast with butter and marmalade and a failure to do a second hot drinks round.

The Virgin staff work miracles in serving a full meal in effectively the hour from Coventry BUT it does mean they have to tidy up and re-lay around you as you are having your meal. Still, they do it with good humour and, considering that some staff are doing 3 return trips a day, without too many mishaps.

Arrival into Euston was 5 minutes early (so a start to stop time of 77 minutes) which gave me a chance to call into the 'hidden' First Class Coffee Lounge which seems to have become lost behind the refurbished ticket hall. Not surprisingly there were very few in it.

So, onto trying out another hypothesis: that the xx.46 from Euston and the balancing xx.33 from New Street were the way to travel between the two cities using London Midland First Class services even though a change at Rugby or Northampton is necessary.

The 8.46 train from Euston turned out to be 3 Class 350 units (12 coaches) with only the front unit going onto Crewe (and therefore calling at Rugby) - the remaining two being dropped off at Northampton. Confusingly, the back two units both claimed to be going to Birmingham, an mistake compounded by the on-board automatic announcements which kept telling passengers to move to the rear portions of the train for Birmingham. To be fair, the guard kept cutting in to correct this mistake BUT wouldn't it be better if he could solve the problem directly? After Northampton, the remaining unit claimed that the next stop was Watford Junction...

I wasn't surprised to find the First Class 'compartment' empty. Class 350 First Class compartments have two four seat tables and sixteen 'airline' seats, power sockets, and 'reclining' seats. For some reason, I had thought that London Midland ran refreshment trolleys on their Crewe sevices but this is certainly not the case. No WiFi of course, and Vodafone USB dongle connection fluctuated in coverage. Also, NO ticket checks (revenue protection!) at all...

Arrival into Rugby's Platform 2 was on time, giving plenty of connection time for the following 10.16 local from Northampton to New Street from Platform 1. Thus, if I had carried on to New Street, I would have enjoyed a journey time of 135 minutes compared to the 143 minutes of the following through xx.54 service from Euston.

Instead, I crossed to Platform 5/6 to witness the on time arrival on Platform 5 of the 9.33 from New Street which connects into the 10.19 departure to Euston from Platform 6. Was tempted to abandon the latter train by the simultaneous (early) arrival of the 10.24 Pendolino non-stop to Euston on Platform 5 but stuck to my plan when it was announced the Off-Peak tickets are not valid on this service. How can Virgin justify this restriction?

Not surprisingly, the London Midland service - which is timed to take 90 minutes despite the fact that the service out of Euston takes only 77 minutes - was relatively full with 6 in First Class from Rugby and a further 10 joining at Northampton. Tickets checked after Rugby and again after Northampton. Was told that with there being a 10 minute wait at Northampton, I had time to get off the train for a coffee...

Turns out the reason for the slower journey south is to allow Pendolinos to rush past prior to Milton Keynes. What price speed in terms of fares?

Arrival into Euston was slightly late, with a journey time of 136 minutes from New Street, compared to the 145 of the following through xx.53 departure.

London Midland can't compete on speed (though I do feel that the timings favour Virgin rather heavily) but can compete on price. Virgin's walk-on first class fare is £240 return (admittedly with varying options of food and free WiFi); London Midland's is £95... 'Go figure', as someone once said!

A break in London allowed a quick visit to East Midland's Trains First Class lounge at St Pancras (still my favourite railway station) in case a plan for Friday works out... Back to Euston to find points failure at Bletchley was causing cancellations though fortunately not to my planned 13.23 Pendolino.

As the preceding 13.03 was a victim to the problem, the First Class was busy (busier than normal?) though not crowded which shows again the strength of the VHF concept. As on the 15.23 departure experienced on Monday, food and drink was efficiently served - ham and mustard roll this time with an English Russet apple - and the service ended up being only 5 minutes late.

So, another successful day of rail travel. Now, who would believe that???

No comments:

Post a Comment