Saturday, 4 January 2020

Avanti West Coast

So Virgin West Coast is no more, replaced by Avanti West Coast from Sunday 8th December 2019. If Twitter is to be believed, the handover wasn't smooth... initial complaints included non-working WiFi, lack of staff, inability to pick seats on the company's booking site, delayed trains, high fares etc etc. A month on, matters seem to have settled down so what is the reality of travel with the new franchise owner between Birmingham and London? Today I was able to travel from New Street to Euston on a train before 8am, returning on one after 3pm. Both journeys ran largely to time, were uncrowded, had friendly staff, and were amazing value for money. Both journeys were on 11 car Pendolinos and were of course staffed by ex-Virgin crews 'TUPE'd' across. Still largely a 'Virgin' ambience (though thankfully without the talking toilet) emphasised by the female / male alternating recorded announcements. One surprise was the £20 upgrade fee for Weekend First each way (I can remember when it was £10) though I am told that it is 'only' £15 from Rugby (for full information see Of course, you could always try your luck on Seatfrog for an upgrade prior to travel, or indeed book and advance first class fare... Talking of fares, my journey was booked 5 weeks in advance. Using a Senior Railcard, the outward Advance Single cost £7.60 and the return Advance Single £6.95 (making a grand total of £14.55). A walk-on off-peak return ticket would have cost me £38.50. Looking ahead 5 weeks, the equivalent journeys currently cost £6.25 out and £5.60 back (total of £11.85) with First Class equivalents at £15.50 each way (so definitely cheaper than upgrading on the train!). Interestingly Avanti West Coast are offering a Super Off-Peak Day Travelcard for £38 but the booking site warns of limited availability... Overall a good introduction to the new company's services. Looking forward to getting to grips with the full offer over the next few months.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Snap coach travel between Birmingham and London

When I first started to blog on travel between Birmingham and London I intended to cover all means of 'public' transport. For various reasons, I ended up concentrating on rail travel options and then had to suspend my blog (and site) as I took up a post with one of the TOCs that I covered.

However, IChooseBirmingham has teamed up with Snap to offer a return trip to London (and other destinations) for free so the other day I gave it a go...

Booking is simple: you choose Birmingham and London, the number of seats, and time that you want to travel and the system comes back with what is on offer. The default pick-up point I was offered was Selly Oak and the default drop-off point was Covent Garden, both of which appeared to fit in with my travel plans so I went ahead with a booking on the 10.26 service. In fact there is a series of stops in both Birmingham and London so it is worth checking the list to ensure your journey plan is optimal (see below).

Naturally you have to verify your mobile phone as you book as this is the preferred method of contact. Having booked you get a confirmation text...

On the day, I arrived at the Selly Oak stop in good time, grateful that the day was fine as there is no shelter... Fortunately there is a Starbucks with a toilet opposite the stop, so, as you can track the coach from your phone, you can wait in there (make sure you leave in time to cross the light controlled crossing). Snap texted to tell me that Simon from Prospect Coaches was on his way...

Due to the horrendous traffic issues around Selly Oak, the coach - a Plaxton Panther with a 17 plate - arrived 15 mins late. Snap uses Google maps to estimate journey times when you book and gave an expected arrival time into Covent Garden (actually Kingsway) of 1244. Clearly not going to happen...

Boarding is simplicity itself - Simon asks for your name and checks it off and that's it. Very quiet on the coach so no problem choosing a seat. Bottle of water handed out and off we went. The coach had WiFi, a USB charger, and a clean toilet. Smooth Radio accompanied the journey south but wasn't particularly distracting. The seats recline but are perhaps rather close together. There isn't a dividing arm rest between the window and aisle seat, but there are seat belts. A drop down tray with cup holder is provided.

The route is the M40 / A40 into West London which means a good run on the motorway - excellent driving by Simon - but an increasingly slow approach to Central London. By Paddington we were down to a crawl..The first stop was Baker Street at the expected arrival time for Covent Garden (1244). In hindsight, that is the point to get off as it took a further 40 minutes to reach Covent Garden...

Shortly after arrival, a text from Snap asked me to rate the trip from 5 (great) to 1 (awful) stating that the ratings help to choose future operators. Naturally I gave Simon a 5 as there was nothing he could have done to improve the timings and his coach and driving were fine...

Snap are currently offering one-way trips for £5 though the range of times seems to be limited. If you are flexible in your timings (and don't mind coach travel) it is probably worth giving it a go. Not sure that those with accessibility issues will be too impressed - there appears to be nothing on the site FAQs about wheelchair provision or help for passengers who need additional assistance. Clearly the toilet is NOT easily accessible (down the flight of stairs leading to the emergency exit...) and my coach had steps to get aboard.

Overall, a service which is still a work in progress?

Snap have provided the following information about accessibility on the coaches they use:

We can look for Operators with Wheelchair access on the day you wish to travel.

There is a box before the check out asking if you or someone travelling with you need to access the coach with a wheelchair.

If that's the case will do our best to accommodate your request.

If you or the person travelling with you can board the coach without the need of a wheelchair but still need one to go around, in that case you can book without clicking the box and we'll store the wheelchair in the luggage area downstairs.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Virgin Trains withdrawal of peak time railcard easements from 6th September

One of the quirks of the Birmingham to London routes has been Virgin West Coast's easement for 16-25 & Senior railcard holders allowing the use of off-peak tickets on peak hour trains. From Sunday 6th September, this easement will be withdrawn -see this FAQ

Clearly this is bad news for those railcard holders who have been benefiting from Virgin's easement: an off-peak return fare of £34.15 will become an Anytime Return at £110.90 although Virgin do say that more Advance purchase tickets will be made available...

So what should an affected Railcard holder do? Clearly the first thing to check is that the journey needs to be at peak times for both legs. The Split Ticketing site is an essential place to start exploring the different options available - for instance, returning to Birmingham on the 16.43 from Euston is effectively off-peak by splitting the fare at Milton Keynes and Coventry.

Secondly, consider using London Midland services to / from Euston or Chiltern Railways services to / from Marylebone. Although slower, both companies' fares are much cheaper than Virgin's as their time restrictions are much less onerous.

Finally, buy your off-peak tickets now as return journeys after the 6th September will be honoured (so Virgin tell me).

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Wrexham & Shropshire - a trip down memory lane

Having written in praise of 'Wrexham & Shropshire: open access - the one that got away' last night to mark the four years since closure, I thought I would take a trip into my blog archive to see what memories my early posts would evoke...

My web site (now in abeyance) and this blog were inspired by the efforts that the W&S were making to break into the Birmingham to London market through the stop at Tame Bridge Parkway. In February 2010, I spent a week travelling First Class between the two cities on a variety of routes and services...

My first experience of the wonderful staff service on a W&S train was on my first day when travelling between Banbury & Leamington Spa. There was confusion on whether I was entitled to a meal but no hassle on being given something to eat (soup in this case). On the second day, I partook of the famed W&S breakfast  and also wrote a rather snarky comment on the W&S claim to have four-star toilets...

In March, I traveled standard class for a week so of course marveled at the difference in comfort for the W&S as opposed to the other TOC offeirngs... see and

In August, I sampled one of the 'Diverting with Doris' trains so warmly described in the book (p104-105) see Happy days but surely financially ruinous...

In December I celebrated the use of W&S stock and staff for a new Chiltern service (see not realising what it was going to lead to!

A year on from the start of my blog came the end... It really was a good year but as the book makes clear one that was not sustainable. Thanks anyway to those who made it happen.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Four years ago this week - the demise of the Wrexham & Shropshire

Four years ago, Adrian Shooter - Chairman of the Wrexham and Shropshire - was preparing to travel to Wrexham to break the news to the staff of the company that the service was to cease. The end was mercifully quick: by Friday the last train had left London Marylebone for Wrexham and a brief but glorious episode in Britain's idiosyncratic railway history was brought to a close.

I can still remember the shock of the announcement that became public on the Wednesday, and my surprise at the seeming ruthlessness that was applied in closing down the service, I had been a champion of the company: indeed, it was its existence that first started me blogging on rail journeys between Birmingham and the Capital. So I felt the loss personally and wondered if we, the travelling public, would ever know the reasons behind the closure decision.

Well, three and a half years on, Richard Harper and Gordon Rushton wrote 'Wrexham & Shropshire: open access - the one that got away' (Adlestrop Press 2014 9780957145610 £33) and, having got a copy in my Christmas stocking, some of my questions have been answered.

The authors were both intimately involved with the company at various stages of its existence so the book is hardly a dispassionate account of its history. Having said that, they bend over backwards (perhaps too far?) to try to give a balanced view of the successes and the failures of the service. Thus, the 'killer' Moderation of Competition clause that Virgin Trains invoked for the Wolverhampton stop is treated even-handedly, as is Network Rail's seeming reluctance to give access to the Stour Valley Line from there to Birmingham. Even the Department of Transport - often a scapegoat for railway anger - gets off lightly!

So what killed the company? 'Events, dear boy, events' as Harold Macmillan probably didn't say. The company was launched just as Britain was about to enter recession; the planned rolling stock didn't materialise and the replacement dedicated rolling stock was delayed; the route timings were tortuous; Virgin launched its Very High Frequency timetable with new faster trains from the West Midlands; Tame Bridge Parkway failed to deliver patronage from north Birmingham; passengers turned out to prefer speed to comfort; the list goes on...

Despite all of the above - and the feeling that runs through the book that the service should never have been launched in the first place - there is real warmth for the achievements of the dedicated staff who worked so hard to make a go of it. Every member of staff has a well-deserved potted biography and key players are given space to explain their contribution. Wonderful photographs of the trains both inside and out show the real pride that the railway generated. Innovations such as the integrated web site / social media presence with print branding along with imaginative marketing material are given proper treatment, and, of course, the meals and on-board service are lovingly described.

So, if you ever travelled on the Wrexham & Shropshire this book is a must. If you weren't so fortunate, then perhaps the book will give you a flavour of why the service was always rated so highly in the Passenger Satisfaction Surveys. Buy it and enjoy!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Split Ticketing

Barry Doe's Fare Dealer column in the latest issue of Rail (761 12-25 November 2014) rightly praises the arrival of This brilliant site allows you to check for rail fare savings on RETURN tickets as well as single journeys. Better still, there is no charge for using it...

Example splits that it suggests...

Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone (Monday-Friday)

05.15 out / 17.15 return - outward split at Banbury and Haddenham & Thame Parkway on Anytime Singles / return on a through Off-Peak Single: Saving £10.90 on the Anytime return

10.15 out / 16.47 return - off-peak return split at Bicester North saving £2.60 on the through Off-Peak return

Birmingham New Street to London Euston (Monday-Friday)

05.29 out / 16.43 return - return split at Milton Keynes and Coventry saving £22.35

10.10 out / 16.43 return - split at Coventry and Milton Keynes saving £69.55

DON'T FORGET that the services have to stop at the stations being used for the split so there is not always the flexibility you might require.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Chiltern family giveaway

Using their favourite medium of the +Metro Monday wrapround, +Chiltern Railways have announced this year's Autum half-term promotion: "buy a family ticket or travelcard to London this October half term holiday, and claim a free family weekend ticket to use in January!"

Full details at

The offer is available from 25th October - 2nd November 2014.