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Good when things run smoothly
Member Name: danrange
Advantages: Fast and not dear when you book in advance
Disadvantages: Expensive if you buy tickets on the day
I commute from London to Coventry at least once a week and often have to travel between London and Liverpool and London and Manchester too. This over the last year or so has made me very experienced in the good and bad sides of Virgin Trains.
Virgin Trains run from London Euston along 5 different lines that terminate in Holyhead, Sandwell and Dudley, Liverpool Lime Street, Glasgow Central and Manchester Piccadilly. There is one further line that runs from Birmingham International to both Glasgow Central and Edinburgh. This is the only line that I do not have any experience of. Generally my experiences on all the lines that I have used have been rather generic.
The good points about Virgin Trains are that they usually run to time, the newer trains are very nice and the Pendolino ones shave a lot of time off of your journey (most trains are new), there is reasonably good on board wi-fi and a trolley service/buffet car. All trains have First Class sections as well as two designated but unpoliced quiet carriages. If you travel First Class then wi-fi is free as is access to a very snazzy lounge at the major stations. You also get a round of tea and biscuits.
Now for the negative points: Virgin Trains are very dear if you pay on the day or are travelling at peak times before 0930 on weekdays and some of the older stock trains are still in service. These are very dated. Also the trains, old and new, are almost always very busy and there have been several occasions when I have had to stand for a 2 hour + train journey. Not what you need at the end of the day and the staff were not very helpful either.
On one occasion the train was very busy because the previous two had been cancelled. The standing hordes (many of whom had reservations on those two cancelled trains) were not allowed into the near empty First Class section without buying a ticket upgrade and so had to stand.
To get the best and most cost effective experience from Virgin Trains I would advise booking off peak tickets well in advance to save yourself a fortune and get yourself a seat reserved. I have paid £256 for an open peak return to Liverpool from London on the day but have also paid £22 return between the same stations by booking in advance and on fixed, off peak trains. The difference in price is huge.
Overall Virgin Trains offer a good service that gets you from A to B quickly when things run smoothly. When things don't run smoothly is when the cracks appear and you end up cursing them but that is probably true of all rail operators and we are inclined to remember the journeys that don't run smoothly far more than the uneventful ones.
In short: Book in advance and cross your fingers on the day.
Summary: They aren't perfect but I don't hate travelling with them