So, now it’s all over, have I learnt anything? Well, yes.
The UK rail network and system is nowhere near as bad as a lot of people will have you believe. I travelled all that distance and most importantly the trains were nearly all on time or early. And I don’t mean the ‘five minutes late counts as on time’ definition as used to compile the performance figures, I mean exactly on time.
Left Plymouth on time at 23.51. Arrived at Paddington 05.25 – eighteen minutes early.
Left Euston on time at 06.17. Arrived at Manchester Piccadilly 08.28 – on time.
Left Manchester Piccadilly on time at 08.43. Arrived at Sheffield 09.35 – on time.
Left Sheffield on time at 10.27. Arrived at St. Pancras 12.34 – on time.
Left King’s Cross on time at 13.00. Arrived at Edinburgh 17.25 – eight minutes early.
Left Edinburgh on time at 18.11 . Arrived at Preston 20.54 – seven minutes late.
Left Preston twelve minutes late at 21.29. Arrived at Birmingham New Street 23.05 – ten minutes late.
23.05 from Birmingham diverted.
The tickets that I had to pay for were generally very good value. Admittedly, I did book early to get good prices but even the latest ones I booked (Paddington – Plymouth and back) were £56 return, for a journey of over 450 miles. I personally think that’s good value.
Every train was clean and comfortable, including the toilets, with no damaged or broken seats or trim.
Every station was clean with no litter left around, although some more seating areas would help, especially at Paddington. I was disappointed by Paddington, but there are extenuating circumstances. There is a lot of refurbishment work going on and it was very heavy rain. The concourse was slippery,so there was a lot of yellow signs and also matting laid on the floor to reduce the risk of slips and falls. I didn’t see a lounge/waiting room like at King’s Cross but there may be one. Plymouth and Preston had proper waiting rooms which was nice to see. Rugby had a small ‘lounge’ on the platform which just had some ‘perches’ rather than proper seats, which was better than nothing, but not ideal. I didn’t get time to check at Sheffield what with my media commitments! .
All the staff were friendly and helpful, whether they were in the retail establishments, on board or on the station.
A lot of preparation is needed. I’m lucky that I know a lot about how the UK rail system works but if you’re not used to it, I can imagine that it can be very confusing and very expensive. Walk-up fares are eye-wateringly high so if you don’t know about Advance, Super-Off-Peak and Off-Peak, when they are valid etc., so it wouldn’t be difficult to get caught out.
Information at stations is sometimes not the best either. Edinburgh Waverley I found particularly poor in this respect, I have to say. Although there was plenty of signage, the exit from the platform wasn’t clear nor where to go to for other platforms. I followed signs to the Travel Centre, reasoning that I could get any other info there. Luckily, it was in the right direction for where I needed to be anyway.
I was disappointed by the lack of 3G/GPRS signal on the Midland Main Line between Sheffield and London, and the West Coast Main Line between Preston and Birmingham. If the railway wants to tempt people out of their cars, then they need to rectify this. On a train, people need to pass the time so they will want to use their laptop or their phone. Business customers will need to make calls and check information online. The WiFi installed on both Virgin’s Pendolino and National Express’s 225 were very good and I ‘d like to see that rolled out to all long-distance services.
Would I do it again?
Yes. And no. I’d love to travel all those routes again one day but this time without the time pressure. And not trying to update a blog and Twitter! I didn’t really get a chance to see any of the interesting stuff on and around the railway which I would like to have.
Now I’m wondering how many miles I can do across Europe…