Tried & Tested

Rail check: Virgin Trains first class

19 Feb 2015 by Jenny Southan

BACKGROUND

Virgin Trains offers 48 trains north and 46 south every weekday between London and Manchester (less frequent on weekends), with trains running every 20 minutes, 6.5 days a week.

THE LOUNGE

I was catching the 1920 train on a Friday night, so Euston station was packed. The first class lounge is located on the first floor, to the right-hand side when you are facing the platforms. It’s open 0700-2300 Monday-Friday, until 2000 Saturday and 1000-2300 on Sunday. There is a very slow lift that you can take if you have luggage but it’s much quicker to take the stairs.

Inside, there is plenty of seating (although it was pretty full when I arrived at 1835), plus free wifi, soft drinks, snacks and newspapers. There is also barista-brewed coffee, showers and a couple of departure screens. Paid for alcohol includes spirits (£2.50 for 25ml of gin), wine and Virgin Trains own Tilting ale and cider (500ml, £4). Compared to some airport lounges it feels less luxurious when it is busy and chaotic but it is nice to escape the hoards in the station before your journey.

DEPARTURE

I left the lounge at 1905 and went downstairs. By the time I was on the main concourse, the train had flashed up on departures screens as leaving from platform three, a couple of minutes away to the right.

There were a lot of people on this Friday night queuing to get on it but inspectors were quick and efficient, and I was on board in coach H in a matter of minutes. A member of staff came around shortly after the on-time departure to check tickets again.

THE SEAT

Virgin Trains uses Pendolinos between London and Manchester with 11 carriages (A-K) – seven for Standard class and four for First class (G-K). On board is bike storage in Coach A and a shop in Coach C. Click here to see a seat plan.

I was in Coach H (44 seats), which was a Quiet carriage, in forward-facing window seat 17 (you can select your preference when booking). It was comfortable and had a good amount of width and legroom. There is a mix of tables for two and four, as well as pairs of seats without tables at all. It wasn’t busy in my coach so the seats around me were empty, which was a bonus.

Everything was very clean and my table for four (16, 17, 19, 20) was set for dinner with paper place mats, mugs, sugar sachets, small plates and tumblers. There was a luggage rack behind seats 13/14 for suitcases. Amenities include reading lamps, plug sockets, coat hooks, shelves above seats for belongings, and free wifi.

THE JOURNEY

The food and drink served on board in first class depends on the time of day you are travelling. Until 0959, breakfast is provided – this includes cereal, juice, toast, croissants, muffins, tea and Fairtrade coffee, plus a choice of porridge, bacon roll, smoked salmon and scrambled egg, and vegetarian and English fry-ups. Between 1000 and 1259 is a made-to-order brunch, with items such as hot bacon baguettes and fruit salad with yoghurt available.

From 13300-1659 and 1900 onwards, there are sandwiches and snacks. An evening meal is offered from 1700-1859 (plus 1630 and 1657 from Euston), consisting of two seasonal hot dishes including one veggie, sandwiches, snacks, dessert or cheese and biscuits. Alcohol is available from 1100 onwards.

On my journey, drinks and snacks trollies came around several times offering free crisps, nuts, cookies, sandwiches (meat and veggie packs with the crusts cut off), soft drinks, tea, coffee and alcohol (wine, cider, beer and some spirits but no gin and tonic). The wifi was a bit unreliable but the large table meant there was plenty of space to work. Staff were very sweet and friendly. Towards the end of the journey there was a rubbish collection.

ARRIVAL

The train pulled into Manchester Piccadilly on time at 2128. Disembarkation was very quick. You have to take the escalators on the left-hand side of the station down to the taxi rank – there were long queues on this Friday night so I called an Uber on my iPhone instead, which was much quicker and cheaper.

VERDICT

A really great, stress-free, punctual train journey – first class is very comfortable, the staff were generous with the food and drink, and having free wifi means you can work.

FACT FILE

  • JOURNEY TIME Two hours, eight minutes
  • TRAIN TYPE Pendolino
  • SEAT CONFIGURATION 1-2
  • PRICE Advance first class fares from London to Manchester start from £40 one-way online.
  • CONTACT virgintrains.co.uk

Jenny Southan

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