Rail Review: Bath – London – Liverpool – BathBack to Forum
Anonymous11 Feb 2014
I thought it was time to submit another rail review. My itinerary this week is a triangular trip from Bath – London – Liverpool – Bath to deliver some training courses. The interesting feature of this trip is that I will be sampling the first class service of 4 different rail companies which I thought would be interesting to compare.
The tickets were bought in advance for a total cost of £127 (which includes a 1/3 discount for a disabled railcard). My itinerary is:
1. Bath Spa – London Paddington, First Great Western (£29.30)
2. London Euston – Liverpool Lime St, Virgin Trains (£44.55)
3. Liverpool Lime St – Birmingham New Street, London Midland (£24.10)
4. Birmingham New St – Bristol Temple Meads, Cross Country (£22.00)
5. Bristol Temple Meads – Bath Spa, FGW (£4.70)
The first two tickets were booked direct online with the TOCs, the last 3 I used Trainline which incurred a £2.55 charge. All legs with the exception of the last are in 1st Class.
I will review each leg separately.11 Feb 2014
Leg 1: BATH SPA – LONDON PADDINGTON
I arrived at Bath station with 10 minutes to spare and picked up my tickets whereupon I saw that the train I was booked on was now terminating at Reading due to the floods along the Thames. The extremely helpful customer service manager at Bath station (visible in her maroon jacket) saw me looking at the board and offered her help. She advised that the next train would go straight through and that Advance ticket restrictions had been lifted on FGW for the rest of the week. She warned that trains were being held at Reading and that I might be up to 60 minutes late. I decided to take her advice and sat in the café and tried to use the wifi to check my emails. Both wifis were not working properly so in the end I used my mobile to access them.
The train arrived on time but was in reverse formation which necessitated a rush down the platform to board. Passenger loads were normal for this time of day and I found a empty bank of 4 seats around a table and took one of those seats. Nobody else sat down during the journey so I had the whole table to myself. As an aside, I have seen little evidence of this supposed trial in January whereby a 1st class carriage is replaced with a std class carriage to alleviate overcrowding at peak times.
The trolley service began immediately and there were two passes before we reached Swindon. I chose an apple juice and banana. FGW 1st class trolley service is free and is pitched about right in terms of what they offer, namely a mixture of biscuits, fruit and cakes plus tea, coffee, water and other soft drinks. Sandwiches are not free but service is at seat. I was surprised that no further trolley passes were made after Swindon which is not normal in my experience.
We arrived at Reading on time and somewhat surprisingly departed on time as well. However, an announcement was then made that there would be an additional stop at Slough and the train was clearly running at reduced speed, taking 30 minutes to complete what would normally be a 15 minute journey. Eventually we arrived at Paddington about 40 minutes behind schedule.
VERDICT With the exception of the missing trolley pass after Swindon, this trip was typical of my experience of FGW on this route. The disruption caused by the floods was very well handled by FGW and I felt well informed about my options and the effect on my travel plans.11 Feb 2014
A long overdue update!
Leg 2: LONDON EUSTON to LIVERPOOL LIME STREET
(The journey from hell!)
This took place last Weds which was the day of exceptional storms across England & Wales. The story is best recounted point by point.
1. Arrived at Euston before 1800 for a 1900 departure.
2. Picked up my tickets and was then advised that all trains north were suspended due to the storms. There were regular announcements asking passengers to travel tomorrow instead which was not an option that worked well for me due to me needing to be at my client in Liverpool before 0930.
3. Shortly after, services to Birmingham resumed and i pondered whether to travel and stay overnight in Birmingham and catch a train to Liverpool in the morning. However, journey times from Birmingham were not much shorter than from Euston.
4. I had just decided to go to Birmingham when an announcement was made that they would try and run a train to Liverpool later that night. I decided to stay and wait for that.
5. The train finally departed at 2030 which was for Preston so I needed to change at Crewe. First class had been declassified but there were still seats available and the train was not too crowded.
6. Staff brought bottles of water around and a snack box. The nutritional value of this box had to be the lowest recorded in the history of mankind! Nothing but junk but I was glad of it before long.
7. journey up to Crewe was without incident until a mile before Crewe whereupon we were held for an hour due to some blockage on the line.
8. Finally got into Crewe at 2330. Waited an hour before the Liverpool train came in. Got on board, waited another 30 mins before an announcement that the train had a fault and we had to get off!
9. At 0100, we boarded another train. For some reason, we then sat at Crewe for an hour before we set off. By this time, everyone was flagging and I was preparing to sleep all night the train.
10. Set off at 0200 and arrived at Liverpool at 0300! Fortunately, hotel was a short walk away.
VERDICT: Obviously this was an exceptional event and so a normal trip report can’t be made. Overall, I felt that Virgin handled the disruption reasonably well and that information to the passengers was given regularly. At Crewe, though, it was more chaotic and the train fault didn’t help matters. I was glad though that I had had a good breakfast & lunch that day so I wasn’t reliant on an evening meal.18 Feb 2014
Leg 3: LIVERPOOL LIME ST to BIRMINGHAM NEW ST
This is the first time I have travelled first class on London Midland. My ticket was actually an Anytime ticket as I wasn’t sure when i would be leaving Liverpool.
The first class section is in the middle of one of the middle carriages and has doors at either end to provide a separate environment. Seating is 2 x 2 which is unusual for first class in the UK (normally 2 x 1) but then the train was more a commuter train than a high speed train. The seats reminded me of the Standard class seats on FGW, except that they could be reclined a little. Given that these seats are most likely to be empty, the seat width is fine for first class.
I chose a seat at a table rather than one of the airline seats. There is power for laptops but no wifi on board. I was surprised that there wasn’t a drinks trolley and I was feeling a little thirsty by the time I got to Birmingham. For a journey of 1hr 45 mins, I think this is an omission.
VERDICT: A basic first class which is reflected in the price. The seats are comfortable enough and you are unlikely to feel crowded. The lack of a drinks trolley though is noticeable and I think London Midland ought to reconsider this.18 Feb 2014
Leg 4: BIRMINGHAM NEW ST to BRISTOL TEMPLE MEADS
I had a 30 minute interchange at Birmingham which gave me the chance to see the new layout of New Street. it is much more spacious than before with more shops and places to dine. However, I was in the mood for junk food that evening but I was surprised not to find a McDonalds or Burger King. In the end, went to the Burrito bar and had an excellent burrito. I would definitely recommend this place.
The Cross Country Voyager train arrived on time and I chose my normal seat in first class which is an aisle airline seat at the back of the carriage. I find this the most comfortable seat in terms of legroom as every other seat has some encumbrance around your feet. The table has plenty of space and there is wifi and laptop power. There was no trolley or drink service which is unusual for Cross Country but being a late night service, I think they don’t do it at this hour. The service arrived into Bristol on time.
VERDICT: A typical Cross Country experience except for the lack of a drinks service. This is probably the most comfortable seat option provided you get the Airline style aisle seat.18 Feb 2014
To which country are you referring ?
In the UK there is no legal requirement for train tickets to carry a passenger’s name.
Yes it is true that when bought online, some UK train tickets may display a passenger’s name. But it is not a legal requirement in the UK …although it may be in certain other countries.9 Apr 2015
Pretty comprehensive review Bath VIP,
By the sounds of it, I’m quite lucky, in as much as I use East Coast, sorry Virgin East Coast. Experienced their 1st class offering the last couple of weeks and the service offering seems to better than you experienced on your various TOC’s.
Virgin haven’t as yet managed to make a mess of EC, but I suppose there’s time yet. And now that Scotrail has now been Dutched up, it will be interesting to see what happens there too. .9 Apr 2015