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Virgin Trains is a company that has received a lot of stick recently, but when travelling with Virgin is not as bad as people make out. Today I am going to take you on what I can only call a typical journey with Virgin Trains, looking at every aspect from getting your ticket to leaving the station at your destination.
BUYING YOUR TICKETS
The first step in your journey is to buy your ticket. This can either be done at a railway station, by phone or on the Internet. When I have bought tickets at a Virgin operated station I have found them to be courteous, helpful and willing to get you the cheapest fare available. Busy stations can have long queues and a special trip to the station can be a bit annoying when buying your ticket in advance. This is one tip I would give to anyone. If you know where and when you are going and coming back (providing it is not a day trip) you can save a lot of money by booking advance and getting a Virgin Value (it cost me £2 return once to go from Leeds to Birmingham). This is one of the great things about Virgin – cheap tickets!
Now to save time you may want to book over the phone. This is equally easy. The call centre staff are friendly. I have not had to wait long for an operator to assist me. The only downside is that you have to use a credit or debit card to buy your tickets. The staff can provide train times as well as prices. However, in the past the call centre staff have got my “no smoking” request wrong.
The Internet is my most preferred method of purchasing tickets. You can type in all your travel details, opt for cheapest times or quickest times, get a quick overview of different types of tickets and change your options easily whenever you want. I am referring to thetrainline.com – the site operated by Virgin – and am not able to comment on other sites in this opinion. When I have ordered the tickets they have come within a day or two of sending. This is miraculous as post usually takes longer reaching where I live.
When selecting trains you will see that the network is very extensive, going as far north as Inverness and as south as Penzance. The trains are also fairly frequent on most routes. The trains’ speed is on the whole good, but at the mercy of track speeds. However, with the introduction of tilting trains this will greatly improve.
WAITING FOR YOUR TRAIN
Getting to the station depends on which station you start from. I have usually travelled from Leeds with Virgin and usually get a connecting train. When waiting for your train I have found Virgin staff around the platforms and eager to answer any questions about the train. However, if you are at a Railtrack station you are at the mercy of the information systems. I have found Virgin operated stations to be on the whole clean. They also try to keep you informed of any delays and reasons (if they have them). Unfortunately some people are impatient and can get very angry with the staff. However, I have always found them helpful. There are often waiting rooms (usually heated) available at stations and car park facilities. There are also disabled faciliries at most of the stations and there are special staff to assist people getting on the train. Some stations, such as Congleton, can be quite far from the town centre. However, you should be able to get a bus or taxi.
ON THE TRAIN
Virgin are in the process of introducing new rolling stock, which I have not had the pleasure of experiencing (if I do I will be update this opinion). However, the existing rolling stock is not very reliable and often train failures can occur. I have had the unpleasant experience of sitting in a carriage with no air conditioning in the height of summer whilst the train is motionless because of a stuck Great Western train. I was impressed though that they regularly handed out mineral water to the whole train. Although refurbished, the trains can sometimes be dirty and the toilets often unclean. The seats are fairly comfortable, but you get the odd broken one. There are special seats on the train for disabled people and the staff are all too willing to help people who need assistance, with a help button available to disabled passengers. I can also say that Virgin’s trains are safe and looking at their track record supports this.
I must stress that delays are often not Virgin’s fault. Railtrack and adverse weather conditions can be a major delay factor. These can include flooding (on case for me flooding around Taunton caused a 2 hour delay), Railtrack (look at the West Coast Main Line for example) and other train operators (1.5 hrs late once). Virgin is also a very long distance operator (e.g. Dundee to Penzance) any delay can set the train back slightly then the “slot” is missed, so the delay just builds up.
As I have mentioned the staff on the trains are very friendly and extremely helpful. On one journey to Penzance from Birmingham we had been accidentally put in a “smoking” carriage when we specified “non-smoking”. They kindly put us into first class! We took the opportunity to eat in the restaurant car and had a nice long chat with a Glaswegian staff member there. The other time when we were delayed by 2 hours because of flooding around Taunton and missed the last train at our connecting station. The kind Virgin staff hired us a cab to go home in and glancing at the meter when we got home it came to £50. The cab driver asked us to sign a form to prove how far we travelled! So as far as customer service goes I prove my point!
AT YOUR DESTINATION
Once again the Virgin operated stations are clean and tidy and the staff friendly. There is often adequate information on further rail connections, bus connections, taxis and some information about tourist facilities at and near your destination. If you get lost, just ask a member of staff and they will be happy to help you.
On all the journeys with Virgin Trains I have found staff to be very friendly and helpful, even when my grandparents got stuck on the train at Birmingham (the guard wrote a note which they could show to the guard on a return train and gave them a mini-lecture!) However, the trains can often be subject to delay – not always Virgin’s fault. Delays also add up. The prices are also very affordable! Looking to future when the new stock arrives, the delays may even be ironed out and we will have a truly first class service. But for now we have to put up with 2nd class!
Thank you for travelling with Virgin Trains and I hope you enjoyed your journey (and the humorous anecdotes of course!)
The new rolling stock is excellent! The Voyagers and Pendolinos are clean, smooth, comfortable. A great improvement. Although what was wrong with a manual toilet door I don't know!!?!? Now you have to push a button and watch it slide slowly open before walking in, finding the button to close the door and watching it slowly close again!
Lancashire_Angel 23.12.2003 01:32
It was interesting to hear what travelling by train is like now. Ee, I remember the good old days when you could turn up at Manchester Piccadilly of a morning and get a day return to London for £33...Love Sharron xxx
AlanWilkinson 02.06.2002 23:32
Yay! An unbiased account of a TOC! Hope you're not planning on going into media!
One thing though... "Railtrack" as an excuse for delays... surely you're not taken in by that, Matt :-Þ
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