Friday, 16 March 2012

Chiltern Railways Peak travel

Declaration of interest: Tuesday's journeys were undertaken using a Chiltern Railways Mainline VIP Travel Pass

The 0655 Silver Train service from Birmingham Moor Street is one of Chiltern's flagship 90 minute Mainline
services to London Marylebone (a timing achieved by stopping only at Solihull and Warwick Parkway). The Silver Trains use the former Wrexham & Shropshire loco-hauled carriage sets, with the former First Class carriages being designated Business Zones.

For a promotional period, Chiltern have reduced the supplement payable to use the Zone at peak times from £20 to £10. For this sum, the traveler gets wider seats, more legroom, a complimentary Financial Times, and complimentary tea / coffee served to the seat. Also offered as part of the at-seat service is a selection of snacks including the Twitter famed #maryleroll (bacon or sausage baps) for which one is meant to pay...

In addition, Business Zone, as in Standard Class, offers full power point provision at all seats and access to Free WiFi. Alas, on Tuesday, the WiFi refused to start up despite the efforts of the on-board crew but it did seem to lead to the charge for the bacon roll being waived...

Timing on the approach to Marylebone is very tight, so although the Silver Train passed other Chiltern services at Leamington Spa, Princes Risborough, and West Ruislip as planned, it still drew into the platform 5 minutes late. An 0830 arrival is fine but it is 95 not 90 minutes...

Tuesday evening saw a full array of Chiltern Managers on duty for the Meet the Manager session. Even at 630 they were still smiling... feedback from the session will be on the Chiltern Railways' Meet the Manager page in the near future. My key takeaway was the effort that is being made with Icomera to make the Silver Trains WiFi reliable!

The 1840 return to Birmingham is a Chiltern Peak service so in theory shouldn't be too busy. The trouble is that the train has first stop Bicester... not only does this make the journey time to Moor Street 107 minutes but it also skews the loading as naturally Bicester commuters prefer this service to the slower 1844. On Tuesday, the train was virtually full to standing until Bicester then relatively quiet for the rest of the journey.

Alas, Chiltern's May timetable changes won't help: the 1840 becomes the 1837 but with the stop at Bicester (and Warwick) retained, the journey time actually worsens to 110 minutes. Come on, Chiltern - your peak business flow to Birmingham surely doesn't end with the 1807.

Leaving aside the Bicester irritation, the Clubman was fine: power points and WiFi working at the table, and an on-time run (though the timings are very generous). Nonetheless, I wouldn't want to be paying £85 for the privilege of using this service

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