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A Journey of two halves
Member Name: HS28
Date: 07/06/09, updated on 07/06/09 (151 review reads)
Advantages: Cheap advanced seats and ability to reserve (If you're lucky and no one nicks your seats!)
Disadvantages: Don't use them on sundays or bank holidays for long journeys
I don't often use the trains in fact I hate public transport and avoid where possible choosing to drive myself everywhere. Where I live if I didn't have my car I would be stuck as the bus only comes 3 times a week and that's twice a day and the nearest small town is 5 miles away for a regular bus service.
To catch a train is even further and so I only use trains when I am off to cities that are a long distance away. Generally if it is under 2 hours I choose to drive but over that and ill go for the train. In Cumbria Virgin trains holds the major stake of the train tracks and so choice is limited but the station nearest me is a major station and will take you to the major cities with relatively no or few changes.
**Booking the Train**
My most recent trip involving Virgin trains was to London which was at the end of May. To book my train I do so on the internet and look at both the train line and Virgin for the prices. I find the sites easy enough to use and always end up looking at the single ticket options as these come out cheaper than a return. Both Virgin and train line always seem to come out with the same prices for me but I am sure they are both the same company. Therefore I end up booking through Virgin anyway, though for some reason Virgin does not display properly in the Opera browser so I have to use one of my back up browsers.
When you first get into the site you pick the stations and it will do a station search if unsure of the town or station you pick. You can also do a date search for both journeys or just outgoing and the site will normally come up with about 3 or 4 choices for train times. The train prices vary per train time and you can pick advanced tickets or flexible or first. They release the tickets 12 weeks in advance so booking up to 12 weeks in advance means you can get the cheapest priced tickets available. The longer you leave it the more the supply goes down and the demand increases resulting in higher priced tickets. To get to booking the train I go to London annually in May and normally this is in term time and I have to get a tea time train down and back which can cost near to £100 even when naming the train and going for off peak. This time as it was in the half term holidays I could be more flexible on times and managed to get prices of £14 down to London and £19 back so cost £33 in total which I though was a really cheap price for the journey length. This was for named trains and not transferable but I still had reserved seats. When you select your train and times you can then select to reserve seats and choose which way to sit and if you want a table or window too. You then pick if you want to print the tickets, get the sent first class or pick up at the station. I always choose the postage option through habit. Overall I find the booking of the trains on the virgin site straightforward and the tickets were posted out very quickly.
**The Journey down**
Well the train was a Pendolino so should have been a fast straightforward journey and it was only stopping at 2 stations before hitting London Euston. My mistake was to book my ticket to leave on a bank holiday which is when they close track sections and the times of journeys increase. The train was smack on time and we got our reserved seats and all looked well. We were going nice and fast and the journey should have been around 3hours 30 to 4 hours. First stop was smooth and not many got on but then we got to Preston and all Hell broke lose. Of course virgin had not sent many trains down to London and this was the first one leaving from Preston and was overbooked. Too many people got on and there were not enough seats and a group of 12 decided to take pre booked seats as they had lost their own. This resulted in arguments that at one point I thought would erupt into fisty cuffs as this older man was rude and obnoxious to the women until he badgered them out of his seat. They ended up sat on the floor of the carriage all the way to London or stood up and then infringed into my personal space. Even with my music up full notch this was rather annoying. The train manager was like a comedy act of Peter Kay trying to make the passengers feel sorry for him. He told us the train had to slow down for safety, first class was full so couldn't accommodate the over flow and to top it off we now had to go via Birmingham as they were doing track maintenance along the normal stretch. He was funny though and eventually snuck his way down to listen to the groans and moans of those who got on at Preston.
An hour late into London I got excited as finally at destination but luck was not on our side as we were told there was a blockage on the track. We all moaned and thought it was a pigeon but instead some poor distressed soul decided it was time to commit suicide on the line our train was on. So Mr Kay was back on the tannoy saying that as we sit and he speaks the police were talking to the attemptee suicider to coax him away from the track. Well half an hour later and the atemptee was moved to one side so that the train could safely enter the station.
**The journey back**
I finished early but as I had named the train could not swop trains. However it was prepared and ready on time and actually quite empty. The train stayed on the right line and had only a few stops up and no incidents occurred. This journey ran smoothly and I even bought a hot chocolate form the on board shop. The only thing going up was a happy child on half term who sang every song from the musical she had seen earlier that day all the way home!
The train to the big cities for me going will always be Virgin as like I said they have the stake of the track. For shorter distance where there may be other local operators I tend to drive anyway. Overall I have found generally Virgin to be punctual and fairly reasonably priced if I make sure I book ahead. I have always received my pre reserved seats although we are one of the stops most furthest north. I have only been delayed once which was this last Journey. Generally I always get a table and plug to use my laptop. My only lesson learnt here would be not to go on a Sunday or bank holiday when these mishaps and events are probably the norm! Even when all hell broke lose I still saw the funny side as the train manager was comical to try to get pity and stop a mass demonstration against Virgin! I have been on the north east line which is a different company and find that Virgin have newer and faster and more comfortable trains. Though on the east the route to London is about an hour quicker as the trains seem to be allowed to go faster.
I would rate them a 3 star and satisfactory overall and would re use (only choice available) At £33 there and back I was happy with the price compared to my normal £100 charge. Although I have found budget airline flights to Europe cheaper than what it costs me to get to London even less than £33 which is a bit daft!! So for leisure trips I end up going to European cities as it is often cheaper for me to get there!
Summary: They are the only operator to the big cities from my area and overall are satisfactory