First of all, I would like to congratulate all the relevant train companies on not turning the landslide and train derailment at Watford last week into a total disaster. When I woke up that Friday morning, checked the Virgin Trains Twitter account and saw that all lines between Milton Keynes and Watford were closed, I thought there was no way we were going to be able to get to our Harry Potter studio tour, booked for that day. Even when some of the lines were said to have re-opened I thought we might not get there in time. However, despite having no luck in even getting a taxi to Milton Keynes station because (presumably) everyone else in the area had managed to call all the taxi companies first, and having to walk to the bus stop in pouring rain, we managed to reach Watford on schedule. Well done to London Midland trains and everyone else involved. we were slightly alarmed later on that day to hear that a second train had ‘nudged’ the derailed one, but this didn’t appear to have caused any serious injuries as far as I know.
During our short break we travelled with Virgin Trains West Coast, London Midland, Cross-Country and Virgin Trains East Coast. Cross-Country seem to have upgraded their seating, at least on some trains, since I last travelled with them. All the trains were on time, apart from the Virgin East Coast one which actually arrived slightly EARLY in Edinburgh, perhaps because it had allowed itself about an hour and a half longer than usual for the journey from York to Edinburgh due to going round by Carlisle. I’m glad I found out about this in advance, because it would have come as a bit of a shock otherwise.
Although Virgin West Coast did better than it has done on some previous occasions described elsewhere on this blog, in the sense that there was actually a train available this time and it was even on time, I wasn’t all that impressed by the service in First Class, as my son and I were ravenously hungry by the time we arrived at our destination. On reflection, I think this was caused by the staff being in too much of a hurry for whatever reason. The trolley with food on it zipped past us and on up the aisle so quickly that we would have had to know exactly what we wanted (and what was available) if we were to ask for anything. But perhaps I was just spoiled by the excellence of the late lamented East Coast service.
The scenery on the West Coast route is pleasantly rural for much of the way, and the weather ranged from misty until we had passed the Lake District, to hazy sunshine around Lancaster and Preston, to sunshine at Coventry.
Yes, I am about to set off on one of my rail safaris round Britain – as usual, it is slightly more complicated than seems necessary.
Whereas I should be preparing for the journey by charging up my electronic equipment and finding my railcard, in fact I have been stalking Virgin Trains on Twitter, a pastime that is quite a bit more fascinating than it sounds. Everything that has previously happened to us in our various attempts to travel with Virgin Trains has evidently happened to many other people just over this past weekend – cancelled trains, no seat reservations, changes to departure platforms at the last minute, failure to provide functioning wi-fi, shortfall in food supplies in First Class…On top of that they have suffered from some sort of computer failure which meant people couldn’t even get their pre-ordered tickets printed out at the station but had to talk their way on board brandishing emails that proved they had actually booked.
Despite previous rants on this blog about Virgin Trains, I felt quite sorry for the people manning the Twitter account. It’s clear that passengers are far more likely to complain now that there is an easy way of doing so publicly via social media, and it’s also clear that, like Jeremy Corbyn, some of the complainants have no idea how to travel successfully by train in modern times.However, on reflection I realised that we are quite fortunate to live in Scotland in that respect, because we are accustomed to having to travel to London and other places further south for all sorts of reasons, whereas Londoners in particular tend to have everything on their doorstep and not to have to go very far to attend meetings, visit certain historic sites, attend national event or travel on Eurostar. We also tend to be very conscious of the cost of travel, so we book well in advance to get hold of the cheapest tickets possible and to make sure we have seat reservations. I don’t suppose every other traveller from Scotland does this, but I also usually be found at Edinburgh Waverley an hour or so before the train leaves, reading the small print nervously and hoping I’m waiting for the right train.
Anyway, this latest trip takes us first from Haymarket to Milton Keynes (watch out, Virgin West Coast, here we come!), then on a day out to Watford Junction, then from MK to Derby, changing trains at (I think) Tamworth, and then from Derby to Edinburgh via York. This last part of the journey seems to be going to take a lot longer than usual. I am guessing the East Coast main line is closed between Newcastle and Edinburgh that day, because all the Virgin Trains on that route are due to go round by Carlisle and the others are being replaced by buses.
I will be reporting back later on whether it all goes horribly wrong or is plain sailing. Keep your fingers crossed!