Thursday, 12 January 2012

Who cares wins? Travelling by Virgin Trains

This week saw the start of the Virgin Money campaign to promote the benefits of the takeover of Northern Rock. With a headline of 'Who cares wins', the campaign carries the strapline 'Our quest to make banking better starts here'...

So, does sister brand Virgin Trains seek the same ethos at the start of the year which will decide the fate of the WCML franchise? Yesterday, I was on the Virgin Pendolinos between Birmingham New Street and London Euston to seek an indication.

As I was travelling to a long booked meeting in Central London, I had been able to take advantage of the Virgin First Class Seat sale in November to book my journey for £17 each way. At such a price - the cheapest walk-on First Class fare is £92.70 each way - one starts off delighted!

I was booked south on the 10.50 departure but arrived at New Street with an hour to spare so, of course, took advantage of the First Class Lounge. Mid-morning proved to be very quiet as I settled down with my laptop to use the complementary WiFi, enjoy the refreshments, and pick up the papers (FT and Independent).

Quiet Coach H was equally quiet as I took my seat and once more took out my laptop. It would have been even quieter without the litany of ticket restrictions which some Virgin train managers deem to be necessary prior to departure from New Street along with the automated 'security' announcements...

Coffee was served immediately upon departure followed shortly afterwards by the soft drinks trolley, but it was not until after Rugby that the sausage / bacon rolls made an appearance... Ticket check prior to Coventry; arrival on time into Euston. The only downside to the journey was that 2 out of the 3 toilets in First Class were out of action!

My return journey was on the 20.23 from Euston which was ready to board as soon as the 20.03 service had departed. Was pleasantly surprised to find an efficient barrier ticket check in operation - as were some fellow travellers judging by the trade the man with the machine was doing - and even more surprised to see the same two members of staff following up with onboard checks too. A new policy for 2012?

Almost busy in Quiet Coach H but still plenty of room and at least we were spared the announcement sequences. Coffee and drinks offered on departure and light refreshments after Watford Junction (can recommend the egg and cress brown baguette). Everything, including the toilets, worked fine and arrival on time in New Street.

So for a total fare of £34 there is little to suggest to Virgin to improve: after all they do provide a frequent, fast, and relatively comfortable service day-in day-out. However, I would not pay the full walk-on fare for it - Chiltern provide many of the same facilities (albeit on services not as fast and as frequent) at a fraction of the cost (yesterday's trip would have cost £25 walk-on).

If Virgin Trains are adopting the same ethos as Virgin Money, then start with the fare structure!

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