IS IT possible to travel inexpensively and in comfort on the UK rail network?
I pose this question as I recently travelled to Helensburgh in Scotland, a well-placed Victorian town on the Firth of Clyde, designed in 1902-03 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and home to the Royal Naval base at Faslane. Lovely town, lovely people, weather not-so-great, at least while I was there!
The circumstances surrounding my need to make this journey were such that I didn’t actually know when I’d be required to go until the last minute. I was also going for personal reasons and not business-related—so putting the cost on expenses wasn’t an option.
When I finally knew my dates, two days prior to travel, I was honestly expecting the cost to be astronomical. So you can imagine my surprise when, not only did I find a favourably-priced seat but it was also in First Class and only costing £8.00 more than a Standard.
Of course it was a no-brainer. So I booked online and looked forward to tasting a 2019 version of a British First Class rail travel experience.
The day came and we arrived at the station bright and early. Aside from a grumpy porter, who argued about the location of available toilets, everything went smoothly. The train pulled in, I boarded, settled into my allocated seat and duly waved goodbye to my hubby.
We set off and the surprises began early. A choice of coffee, tea or soft drinks, followed by a picnic-style lunch—then even more drinks—were all served at your seat and best-of-all… for free! Amazingly the extra £8 I’d paid for my ticket had already been repaid.
I had to change trains at Edinburgh Haymarket with a very short transfer time. And not knowing which platform to head for I asked a station employee who was, to say the least, rude and unhelpful. But, luckily for me, a fellow traveller kindly offered to look up the info on his smartphone’s Virgin App and I just made it onto my connection.
The return was even more interesting. Again I didn’t know when I’d be travelling home until closer to the date. I searched online and found the same priced ticket I’d purchased for my outward journey. But it stated I could only travel on the trains stipulated for that price, and again it gave me a very short transfer time—with no allowance for delays.
On a whim, before buying, I headed to Helensburgh Station to see if they had a machine to print out my ticket. I’m so glad I did. The ticket man was brilliant, and told me I could travel on an earlier train in order to avoid the risk of missing my connection. Apparently, when it states that the ticket price only covers certain trains, it only applies to the main operator and not other rail providers—in this case Scotrail. So I was able to take an earlier train and arrived at Edinburgh Haymarket with 40 minutes to spare and time for a coffee!
When my connection arrived, I again settled into my seat not sure whether the freebies would be on offer again. Well, indeed they were. And, in addition, there was wine this time plus even more food!
I had wondered, as I travelled up on a Saturday, whether the refreshments were just a weekend special. But I returned on a weekday, so it appears they’re included in the ticket price whatever day of the week you travel.
I think it’s important to point out that, on both journeys, there were three First Class carriages and none of them were anywhere close to being full.
Two things spring to mind:
- We the public need to search online to compare standard and first class travel, especially when making a long journey.
- And to the rail operators, why are you putting First Class carriages on trains only partially filled when passengers are squashed liked sardines into Standard ones?
When things run smoothly, trains are a good and comfortable way to travel around Britain. Yet there’s also still so much that can be done to improve rail services.
Investment has to be made—and soon. Especially when we’re being asked to take fewer short haul flights to reduce our collective carbon footprints.
’Til next time,