In this part, I should write about my thoughts about various aspect of the trip and overall summary
More about my plan for a challenge can be found here: https://dominiksymonowicz.com/2018/07/23/doms-32-hours-on-trains-in-the-uk-challenge/
Table of contents for this report can be found here: https://dominiksymonowicz.com/2018/10/18/doms-32-hours-on-trains-in-the-uk-challenge-report-part-1-introduction/
I will write about various aspects of trips including booking tickets, staff, trains, food and drinks and finish with other thoughts I had regards trip, my experience and state of British Railways.
BOOKING TICKETS EXPERIENCE
From all three companies. Only Caledonian Sleeper was designed by a person with UX knowledge. Straightforward process, simple choices. Perfect.
CrossCountry using this old’ish design to buy a ticket. It is not bad but feels outdated. Nevertheless, it was OK.
In fact the only problem with the booking I have with Night Riviera Sleeper. I couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket I wanted. It made me laugh to read “We’ve made it super-easy to book” while I was trying to find out. After I bought, I still have no idea what ticket I purchased. I thought I bought the first class, but it turns out it is treated as an Adult standard class because all sleeper tickets are treated as a standard class.
What I will write now will be extremely controversial.
The best train I used on this trip was British Class 220 “Voyager”, and worst will be GWR’s HST which is Class 43 locomotive and Mark 3 coaches. Almost all train fanatics in the UK will say precisely opposite. The reason is … GWR’s standard class feels like premium Pacer for me. Caledonian Sleeper has the best seat in their Sleeper Seat carriage, but train feels a bit spooky and unloved. I am not surprised because this train is more 40 years old will be replaced by a new one next year (assuming there will be no more delays). The same can be said about GWR’s Class 43 locomotive and Mark 3 coaches that are in the process of replacing by Hitachi’s Intercity Express Train. I wish CrossCountry use Caledonian Seat in Voyagers as it will make this train awesome and this trip many times better. I didn’t use Night Riviera Sleeper in the end, so I don’t have an opinion.
Food and DRINK
Caledonian Sleeper has breakfast included in the price, and it was decent for train travel. I will say even better than on BA. Dinner was disappointing as it feels like I went to Wetherspoon but after my experience with CrossCountry, I changed my mind. I believe food on Caledonian Sleeper was great. CrossCountry was catastrophic. Trolley Service is not suitable for long-haul trips. I didn’t use Night Riviera Sleeper, so I don’t know what food is on offer there. I can’t judge catering on GWR train either due to total chaos on the network. However, Their selection of beers and juice are good. Sadly new Hitachi trains will have trolley service which will be as shit as on CrossCountry and all other services.
STAFF and CUSTOMER SERVICE
I must say the staff on the railway in the UK are fantastic.
Yes, I mentioned that some Caledonian Sleeper staff were fake friendly, GWR staff at Paddington is shit, and I can probably find a few other cases I was not impressed with my interaction with the staff.
In general, almost always the staff are accommodating. They helped me when I messed up on a few occasions. I remember one case, when I left the laptop on the train, then XC staff did best to find my laptop quickly. They left at the next station so I could pick up and carry on my journey (that journey went wrong due to the ticket problem, and the staff helps me with this too!). People on the Arriva Train Wales and Virgin Trains help me on many occasions. In my opinion, front staff (station, guard and drivers) are the best part of British Railways.
In fact, I believe that:
the staff is a soul of the Brtisih Railways.
Unfortunately, I see sad trends to reduce onboard staff or, what is especially worrying for me, eliminate it altogether. I know, time moves on and many jobs can be automated, so I understand closing down ticket offices, and so on but these savings should be spent on to have enough staff on the train and stations.
For example, I like DOO (DOO stands for Driver Only Operation). DOO is a handy tool for the driver, but it is not a replacement for Guard on the train. It feels like that for companies, one of the main features of DOO is to get rid of Guard on the train. In my humble opinion is fundamentally wrong.
Driver’s job is to get a train from A to B safely and on time if possible. It doesn’t matter how the driving train is automated and so on but Driver’s focus is a train and safety of the train.
Guards are a critical part of safety on the train to ensure the safety of passengers, support for them like sort out trip problems, like first aid, provide assistance for disabled people and so on.
I can’t imagine driver to do all guards roles on top his primary focus. Every train that going outside London, Birmingham and other TOP 8 cities
should/must have a guard on the train.
I think the problem with British Railways is with the way how it viewed. Public transport is a service provided by Government to allow people and goods to get from between A to B. This is NOT a business for profit. Unfortunately in the UK is viewed as Business. However, I will not get into any details as it is a good topic for a separate blog entry. I just want to write that British Railways require much more investments not less!
My point is “I believe that staff is a soul of the Railways” and almost every train should have a driver and at least 1 guard to provide service that passengers need.
OK, enough of bitter reflection on railways and back to subject.
Which staff was best? CrossCountry had the best staff and customer service. They are pro-active and helpful as much as possible giving crap circumstances. I felt that Caledonian Sleeper staff was fake friendly, but it may be just a coincidence. I can’t judge Night Riviera Sleeper staff as I haven’t used them. GWR has a tremendous onboard staff and piece of shit customer service and staff on Paddington. Nothing changes there. However, in Plymouth station staff was completely different. They were helpful as supportive, so there is some hope for them.
AND THE WINNER IS :
Overall, I had the best experience with CrossCountry and this another time when I had a great time with them. Caledonian Sleeper is cool, but they need to work on better service and food to offer a truly exceptional experience. Still, it is worth to try it. GWR despite improvements is still my the most disliked operator in the UK. Usually, I try to avoid using GWR because so far I almost never get into the destination. However, I would like to use Night Rivera and Pullman dining experience someday.
A subject that I didn’t plan originally but after the events and suggestion from the staff of all companies, I decided to apply for a refund to see what happen. I will write in next part when I finish ( after 2,5 weeks there wasn’t any response so far)
Others things and thoughts
to point out regards my trip and British Railways in general:
- Trolley service is always crap and much worse than food served in the buffet car. When I am aware that there is a trolley service I will buy my food and drinks. Items on the trolley are always crap, and even if rarely there is good stuff, then it is sold out.
- My biggest disappointment with British Railways apart of getting rid of staff is a recent new design/refurbishment of the trains in the UK. They seem to be designed in ‘low-cost aeroplane carrier’ style.
- Too squeezed seats that are a good fit for short and too slim people.
- The Buffet with decent food replaced with the shitty trolley.
- The seat that feels like the plastic version of the church pew.
- The design is boring, and so everything looks ‘clinically dull’.
- Advice for people travels to London. If you travel late in the evening on a risky day, then make sure you book a train to London with a ticket that covers a ticket include zone 1-6. In case if you train came late, then the train company must offer you a taxi to your destination. It is a good lesson learnt while travelling on GWR but it applies to all operators. It may apply to travel to a few other big cities
- I haven’t used a mobile app as I want to keep a ticket as a souvenir from this trip.
- At Birmingham New Street I saw Arriva Trains Wales for last time as this franchise was ended on 13 October 2018. It makes me sad because I used ATW when I was studying in Aberystwyth. I always had a great experience with them. Great staff. The Cambrian line is very scenic so you can enjoy stunning views. While I was travelling between 2007-2010 it was an essential feature for 2 reasons: there is no mobile network during most of the trip, and it was more than likely that you will be late up to 2 hours as you couldn’t accuse Arriva was to be on time as you had like just 55% to get to Birmingham New Street.
It feels like my disappointment is immeasurable and my trip was ruined but honestly? Despite all these dramas during the travel, it didn’t prevent me from having a great adventure. Yes, it turns out to be a survival adventure where many things went wrong, but It made thing challenging and exciting. I repeat. I had a great time, and I am proud I did it. I had great fun doing this challenge. I found time to:
- enjoy stunning views of British railway architecture
- experience night travel (on Caledonian sleeper only)
- stay in the first-class lounge
- survive on the same train for 15 hours, which is my new record.
- There are two franchised train operating companies that do not own any stations Caledonian Sleeper and Cross Country and guess what? I used both of them during this journey 🙂
I learn what I need to do to write a better report next time:
- Write notes as I go.
- Do more pictures of myself.
- Buy action camera for video shots
I still have a few train adventures to do in the UK. I will do at a slower pace to be able to enjoy a relaxing time while I am doing this. More about it can be found here: https://dominiksymonowicz.com/aims/trains/
I hope to find the time in the future to make more epic train trips.
In my challenge plan, I asked these questions:
Can I complete my trip? No, but I could. If I wait for 7 hours on the platform after 25 hours of travelling, then I will get to Reading where I could use another train to London Paddington. However, all 3 trains didn’t get to the destination.
Can I survive the journey? Yes, I can survive these journey, but it was plagued with many problems caused by derailment and storm.
Can I get to all places on time despite the plague of signal failures, crew shortages happing all the time on British railway? I got to London Paddington in the end, but All trains I was on didn’t get to the destination:
- My first trip from London Euston to Aberdeen finished in Montrose.
- My second leg of the journey from Aberdeen to Penzance finished in Plymouth.
- The last leg of the journey, if I took it will end in Reading.
I like as well to explain my trip. It looks straightforward:
“I am travelling on Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston to Aberdeen where I have a connection to train from Aberdeen to Penzance where I have a connection to NightRivera train to London Paddington.” Simple? Right?
Well.. as it turns out I needed to repeat a few times each part of the trip and response I got what shout with a shocked face.
For example, when I explain to staff on Caledonian Sleeper that I have a connection in Aberdeen. They asked me. To where? I answer Penzance. TO PENZANCE?
Similar things happen when I explain I had a connection to train to London Paddington.
I am travelling to Penzance where I have a connection. Connection? Where? Night Rivera Service to London Paddington. TO PADDINGTON??? 🙂
Nevertheless, I am proud I did it.
I would use this opportunity to say thank you to:
- CrossCountry staff and customer service to help me during distribution.
- GWR staff at Plymouth station to taking care of me.
- People who inspired me to make this trip:
- Dennis Bunnik (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQrk97MBH6DToctKRfQJcNQ),
- Paul Steward (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChEU4Y6IZ-xcuCQ8l0XDH4A)
- Paul’s Trip Reports (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzuKzSNb8hGV9DsqIBUb79w)
- Vicki and Geoff from All the Stations (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7ttKX46nJxUeXZ0aoD4Q5g)
- Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May from The Grand Tour/The Top Gear.
I think I am ready now to travel on the longest direct train service in the world that is run between Moscow and Pyongyang 🙂
I hope I wrote everything as accurate as it happens but due to an overwhelming amount of events I experience some stuff may be inaccurate.