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My experience of Virgin Trains is that it is one of the better train companies in the UK. Seeing as my experiences on Arriva and First Great Western have generally been below par this may not be saying that much!
About the company: It all started in 1996 Virgin Trains won the Cross-Country and West Coast franchises. The network is vast covering from Penzance to Aberdeen. In London their base is Euston station. 334 run everyday and Virgin carries 33 million passengers annually. Virgin Trains are bought to you courtesy of Sir Richard Branson as part of the massive Virgin Group.
The Trains: The trains are either Voyager or Pendolino. They can reach speeds of 140 mph and tilt around curves, pretty exciting! If you are unlucky you may be on one of the older trains, which are frankly, a bit rubbish.
The trains are pretty nice inside, well for a train anyway. Compared with the old First Great Western trains they are amazing! In standard class the seats are cosy and the legroom is good. Each seat has a reading light, window blind and a power point for charging phones or laptops, which is a nice touch. You can plug in your headphones for audio channels, which
can be entertaining on a long journey. The minor gripe I have is with baggage space. There are few racks by the door and it can be a bit awkward to shuffle down the aisle with a heavy suitcase to find a rack in the middle of the carriage.
First Class is posh. You have a big roomy seat, which reclines and a first class host/hostess to provide you with a free food and beverages and a newspaper. The website gives you details of the weekly changing menus. At weekends and bank holidays you just receive free drinks and biscuits, which must be collected from the onboard shop. There are First Class Lounges at London Euston, Manchester Piccadilly, Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham New Street, Coventry and Wolverhampton; they are quite similar to airline lounges. You can upgrade to first class at a weekend or a bank holiday for £10 to £20 per journey.
Onboard Shop: The shop sells goodies such as sandwiches, fair-trade hot drinks, biscuits, crisps and cakes. It also has a few books and magazines and little things like batteries and ibuprofen. Sometimes the shop is closed for a while and two 'customer service assistants' push a trolley down the aisle. I find this a bit pointless as this means the shop is closed for the duration of this and it blocks the aisle up as well! I have in my time enjoyed a ploughman's sandwich for £2.25 and a cheeseburger for £3.50. Both have been surprisingly tasty and good value for money.
My experiences: I have travelled quite a bit on Virgin, between Euston and Birmingham and vice-versa, and between Reading and Southampton. I have always had a seat and been happy enough. I realise that if I took the service every day I would be more likely to be unhappy and packed into a carriage with loads of other commuters! I have travelled peak time and off peak and have always been happy.
The staff: The first class hosts and hostesses have always been pleasant and helpful. The customer service assistants are often a bit sullen and miserable but who can blame them? The ones in the shop are normally nice enough and the train managers are often quite friendly. One friend remarked, perhaps a bit unkindly that train staff are just 'wanna-be' airline cabin crew who don't make the grade! They do have to work hard though and I always find that if I am polite to them they are polite back to me. They wear an ok uniform, a bit like the Virgin airline crew but with a funny mixed colour top. On a recent journey back to London, two assistants came down the aisle with the trolley. They were quite miserable looking with lots of make up on and dour expressions. They repeatedly banged their trolley into passengers as well! As they went down the aisle I heard a few passengers remark on it and what a waste of time having a trolley service! The staff at stations has always been friendly and helpful to me. There are also cleaners on many services who come around regularly and take rubbish and clean the toilets, which keeps the train tidy.
Where to buy your ticket: At a station, through nationalrail.co.uk or the trainline website. Or if you buy through the Virgin Trains site you can get the cheapest possible tickets with Virgin Values Fares.
The Toilets: I have always found them to be clean and well stocked.
Punctuality: This can be mixed but for August 2006 it was 91%. The recent figures vary between 82% and 92%. Personally I have never had a problem with this.
Website: www.virgintrains.co.uk A very useful website with lots of information from train times to careers at Virgin Trains.
I used to have to use these to travel from Chester to London every week. The service is great, but they can be a tad expensive! I am glad the company was paying...
Timbo3107 15.01.2007 21:02
Definetly my preference over flying. A train gives a person time to think as well as relax. I mean when was the last time you heard train passengers putting on seat belts becuase of turbulence? Regards, Tim
rainbow86 15.12.2006 17:25
If I'm travelling long distance - i'll definately try Virgin trains!