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Better than they were, but that's not saying much
Member Name: jamesontheroad
Date: 31/03/08, updated on 13/10/08 (2560 review reads)
Disadvantages: Overcrowded, badly designed trains, not enough luggage room, poor ride comfort due to underfloor eng
CrossCountry is the British train operating company that runs most north-south and some east-west long distance trains that do not serve London. The company is owned by the transport multinational Arriva. Arriva decided to brand CrossCountry separately to distinguish the franchise from Arriva's predominantly rural and provincial services in Wales.
CrossCountry's services are summarised into numbered routes:
1. Plymouth to Edinburgh Waverley (via Leeds)
2. Reading to Newcastle (via Doncaster)
3. Bristol Temple Meads to Manchester Piccadilly
4. Bournemouth to Manchester Piccadilly (via Coventry)
5. Cardiff Central to Nottingham
6. Birmingham New Street to Leicester and Stansted Airport
Routes 1 to 4 were previously opeated by the cross-country division of Virgin Trains, while routes 5 and 6 were integrated from the Central Trains franchise, which has now been replaced by CrossCountry and East Midlands Trains.
Each route has at least train an hour, apart from Birmingham to Leicester and Birmingham to Nottingham which always have two per hour. The combination of routes means that many sections of the network see up to three or four trains per hour.
The shape and format of the network is largely left over from the previous franchisee Virgin Trains, who operated the cross-country franchise from privitisation until November 2007. Virgin initiated a major fleet replacement programme that replaced high speed trains and locomotive hauled trains with a larger fleet of four and five carriage diesel-electric multiple units called 'Voyagers'. Some 'Voyagers' are designated 'SuperVoyagers' and are capable of tilting to maintain speed and comfort through bends. While the fleet renewal programme brought many more trains into service, they are all of fixed lengths and have, in some cases, resulted in a reduction of capacity. It's not unusual to find some rush-hour trains between key cities packed to standing room only, a situation not helped by the fact that apart from linking two trains together, they cannot be extended to respond to demand. The former Central Trains routes aren't much better, since these trains (called 'Turbostars') are just two or three carriages long. All Voyagers and Turbostars are self-propelled multiple units, so passengers will feel and hear the vibration of the trains' engines beneath their seats - ride comfort and acoustic comfort are significantly worse than on the old locomotive hauled trains.
In autumn 2008 a number of refurbished high speed trains re-joined the fleet to provide extra capacity. By 2009, five of the Intercity 125 High Speed Trains that used to operate these routes (and which Virgin chose to replace with shorter modern train) will be back in service, providing eight carriages and approximately 550 seats on certain longer distance services.
In all cases, advance purchase tickets offer the best value, and are normally best purchased online as single tickets. A seat reservation also guarantees you a seat on these often crowded trains. The modern diesel and diesel-electric trains offer poor comfort compared to the older trains they replaced, with hard seats and very limited luggage provision. Passengers traveling with more than two bags will find it difficult to find space for their bags, and even harder to find space that they can observe them during the journey.
Routes 1-4 feature on-board shops and routes 5-6 feature a trolley catering service. Both offer hot and cold drinks and snacks. A plan by CrossCountry to replace the on-board shops of the Voyager trains with more seats, luggage space and a roving trolley service appear to have been put on ice due to problems re-configuring the leased rolling stock.
First class service is provided on most trains, although most former Central Trains trains are not equipped with a first class cabin. First class passengers receive a complimentary beverage and snacks at certain times, although apart from a core set of routes this isn't served at your seat - you need to walk the length of the train to the shop to get your refreshments. Weekend upgrades to first class are available and widely promoted, but only provide you with a maginally larger seat.
Virgin Trains had a tough time operating this franchise, and no doubt CrossCountry will have problems too: the network is a complex mesh of routes across many different lines, serving many important and busy stations. Passenger numbers have increased dramatically, and the decision to use such small trains on so many routes has made overcrowding even worse. For the occasional traveler, cheap advance purchase tickets are great value, but for the commuter or regular traveler, these routes are a depressing part of modern life on Britain's privatised railways.
Summary: Fingers crossed that CrossCountry improve this difficult franchise.
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