Monday, 28 May 2012

Chiltern Railways Business Zone off-peak

As planned, the adapted (refurbished) Silver Set entered revenue earning service for Chiltern today. This week, it is due to work the following services:

  • 0619 Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone
  • 0837 London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street
  • 1055 Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone
  • 1646 London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street
(but see note below)

As the 1055 has Super Off-Peak fare (£25) availability along with the Off-Peak Business Zone Supplement (£10), I joined it today to see what, if any difference, the fare-paying passenger will find...

The first thing to note is that the set formation is the other way round from the existing sets. It has long been a wish by Chiltern to 'ape' other train operating companies by having the Business Zone carriage at the London end of the train (not that Chiltern offer First Class you understand, but still...). In fact, the opportunity has been taken to assuage irrate residents around the Wembley depot by moving the locomotive to the Birmingham end as well, and to fit a generator in the Driving Trailer so that the loco can be shut down when not needed for haulage purposes.

Ironically, this revamp has had two perhaps unintended consequences. First, the Standard Class Quiet coach is now next to the locomotive (and Class 67s can make some noise). Secondly, the prime target market for the service of Birmingham businessmen and women now have to walk the length of Moor Street to reach the BZ carriage (though of course they are the first through the barriers at Marylebone).

Once inside the train, using the impressive power-operated plug doors, the Business Zone carriage looks basically the same - spacious, attractive 2x2 and 1x1 table seating - with the former Wrexham & Shropshire maroon & greys colour scheme enhanced with discreet signage and coat hooks. What I hadn't expected after the success of the proving run on Friday was a steady hum in the centre of the carriage. This turned out to be the underfloor alternator which I was assured was not supposed to make that much noise (surely that can't be why the Wabtec staff were so talkative on Friday...). Fortunately, as the BZ was very quiet, I was able to move to the London-end 2x2 table.

Alas, once there, a second fault lead to further noise. The sliding door into the vestibule had had to be locked open (again, a teething fault I was assured). Unfortunately, members of the train crew didn't realise that the vestibule would act as an amplifier for their (personal) conversation so the journey to Solihull was enlivened by details of their rather interesting weekend!

Once past Solihull, matters quietened down. So, with power points, WiFi, and the FT available, the working environment was ideal. The £10 supplement was collected, and tea / coffee offered and accepted (love the china tea service). What more could I want? Well, I suppose the feeling that I was being looked after. On previous Business Zone trips, the tea and coffee flowed freely and the staff engaged in whether the bacon roll should be bought. Today, it was like travelling with Virgin Trains First Class: the basic offering was served pleasantly enough but nothing else happened. Thus from Banbury onwards, the four of us in the BZ worked or read or phoned undisturbed.

Not quite sure this is what Chiltern had in mind when planning for the Birmingham business man/woman to be tempted away from Virgin (and of course it is a far cry from the Wrexham  & Shropshire experience).

Finally, I was bemused to have it confirmed by Chiltern that NONE of the company's personnel are entitled to travel Business Zone without paying the supplement. Thus it is that the managers of the Zone cannot travel in it without a cost to themselves. Chiltern assure me that there are sound reasons for this policy but it does seem peculiar that those responsible for the quality of the offering are not experiencing it first hand. Do Virgin and LondonMidland operate a similar policy???

Note from above

I had been expecting to do a comparison piece about returning on the 1337 non-adapted Silver Set. Alas, the BZ carriage ran hot into Wembley off the 0655 up from Moor Street and so had to be removed. Thus, Chiltern are currently not able to offer Business Zone on this diagram as the third set has departed for Doncaster for refurbishment. Unfortunately, also lost is the Expresso Bar and WiFi - the router is in the BZ carriage! It could be Thursday before the carriage returns to service so there may be juggling of diagrams taking place.

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