Thursday, 29 March 2012

Chiltern Railways: (many) pleasures, (occasional) surprises, and (some) disappointments

On Tuesday, my meetings allowed me to use my favourite train for travelling from Birmingham to London: the 1055 'Silver Bullet' Chiltern Mainline service between Birmingham Moor Street and London Marylebone...

This service brings together the many pleasures that are to be had in travelling with Chiltern Railways. First, of course, is the fare: £25 super off-peak return if you are able to return in the evening (or weekend) or £50 off-peak return if you need to return over the tea-time peak. Secondly, you are travelling in a 'proper' train (loco hauled carriages), the Standard Class comfort of which is better than the First Class offering of a certain very expensive company also operating between Birmingham and London. Thirdly, tables, power points, and WiFi are all included in the price, and the Expresso Bar offers value for money refreshments during the journey.

So what was the surprise on Tuesday? Well, a couple of weeks ago, Chiltern's management reduced the price of the Business Zone on 'peak' services from £20 to £10 but said that this supplement was now payable on all Business Zone trains. So, naturally, I was expecting to pay £10 to sit in the Business Zone carriage of the 1055 and being served by a 'dedicated' host. However, it would appear that Chiltern have backtracked: although the £10 supplement offer remains, it is NOT being applied to the 1055 service nor to the 1337 balancing working.

So a pleasant surprise, made even better by the fact that Chiltern catering staff are such good ambassadors for the company that they will serve 'Business Zone' carriage passengers at their seat anyway! Have I mentioned before that the Bacon Roll / Drink combination is wonderful value at £3.50???

Onto the disappointments (regular readers will know what is coming)... the problem that Chiltern has as a Birmingham to London service provider is that of the London commuter traffic. Thus, although one feels wanted as a passenger leaving Birmingham in the morning (peak, off-peak, or super off-peak), one does not get that feeling in the evening when Marylebone is a sea of commuters and Chiltern revert to being a commuter-driven railway.

Tuesday was classic. The 1915, which takes an eye-watering 105 mins to stagger to Moor Street, was crowded to standing on departure. BUT, of course, much of this crowding is caused by commuters to Bicester and Banbury. Chiltern tell me that the service pattern and loading is dictated by the Public Service Requirement; even so, there must be some things such as differential pricing or the fabled 'pick-up' only timetable note that could be done to make early evening travel back to Birmingham more attractive.

On the Clubman itself, I did get a table once the driver opened the doors for the scrum of passengers which had formed but, although the power point was working, the WiFi was not. Sympathy from the Twitter team @chilternrailway but it would be more helpful if Icomera, the company behind the WiFi provision, stopped hiding behind the 0845 support number (which is horrendously expensive from a mobile) and used Twitter instead!

Overall, I love using Chiltern but the company need to do more if it is to be a serious competitor to the West Coast Mainline alternative.

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