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[Updated] Anglia railways - getting there!
Member Name: ermintrude
Date: 03/08/00, updated on 13/08/02 (142 review reads)
Advantages: Punctuality; cleanliness; reasonable fares
Disadvantages: Phone booking line practically useless; trains don't run late in rural areas; sometimes not enough room for bikes
A decent train company? Surely not? Well, I'll stick up for Anglia Railways for a number of reasons.
First of all, they mostly seem to run on time. My usual journeys are Norwich-London on a Friday night (usually on time), and London-Norwich on a Monday morning (late about 1/4 of the time, usually due to incoming trains being late). On the bright side, even when they are delayed, they are pretty quick with the compensation and an apology/explanation.
Secondly, I've never had any problems with rude or unhelpful staff. The conductors always have their ticket machine, and rarely give you hassle if you didn't buy a ticket at the station, although they are supposed to be cracking down. I think the leniency, at least on trains from Norwich is due to the intermittent uselessness of the ticket office there. Occasioanlly, it's just ridiculously busy, and things move at a snail's pace. Also, there is just one queue, whereas other stations often have separate lines for immediate travel (i.e. people in a hurry) versus advance bookings, railcards, etc. This would make a big difference, I think - there are often very agitated people whose train is leaving soon, they know the ticket they want, and have the right money, but they're stuck behind someone considerably less organised.
The trains themselves are generally clean, not spotless, but not disgusting like some of the ones I've been on (Central Trains I mean you!). Also, I've never had to stand, but I don't travel at peak times, and certainly not on the rush-hour trains coming in on the rural lines. The London trains vary between old Inter-City type stock and newer, but smaller, units, all with buffets and plenty of table seats. Local trains are older and reflect their main commuter purpose (lots of seats, few tables).
I understand many people commute in on the train from outlying villages, so their experience may be very different from mine - I am usually
a leisure traveller, going away for the weekend, or to the coast for the day. I do know that local services from the east and north are well-used, though, anda new commuter service will be starting in late September, running to/from Cambridge via Ely, giving those to the west of Norwich a more reliable service (currently the Central Trains service from Liverpool is their only option, and it suffers frequent delays further up the line).
Prices are pretty reasonable. London Day Out tickets are under £20, evening out tickets are even cheaper, and you can get Anglia Day Rover (unlimited travel in the Anglia area) tickets for under £10. There are often special offers on the main line, such as Ipswich-Norwich return for a fiver. A return from Norwich to the coast is under £5, less if you have a railcard, so ideal for a family day out. You can also get combined bus/train tickets to explore the North Norfolk Coast, which is a nice bit of joined-up thinking.
Indeed, there are a number of rural services (well, this is East Anglia!), and plenty of chance for a day out at the coast, at Cromer/Sheringham, Yarmouth or Lowestoft. The first of these is branded the "Bittern Line", and the other two are the "Wherry Lines", reflecting local associations. Leaflets about these services give information about the villages they serve, local attractions and even short walks to do. The services don't run very late, though (not past 11pm), which is probably more of a problem for people in, say, Sheringham who want a night out in Norwich.
These rural services can take bikes, but only a limited number, so it's best to book if you can (you then pay your £1 on the train), especially on summer weekends. The mainline services to London can take bikes if it's an old Intercity type train (they go in the guard's van) but the flashy new, smaller trains don't have room. However, a friend tells me he's never had a problem just stand
ing by the doors with his bike - this would depend on the time of travel, though, as they can get crowded. Anglia offer a bike recovery service to anyone with a valid train ticket, so if you have an accident or mechanical failure, you know you can get home again.
The only downside I've found in the past is that it's ridiculously difficult to get through on their phone booking line - however, I've been told that it's now much improved (see comments). Happily, I am now able to buy the tickets I use the most from the travel shop on my university campus, so don't need to rely on phone booking.
Maybe it's because they have a fairly self-contained area, and it was in decent shape before privatisation, but Anglia seem to be doing pretty well at providing a good service. The appearance of the stations and trains, and the attitude of the staff, makes it seem like they actually care about their customers (shock! horror!). Plenty of other train companies could take a few tips.