Trains in the United Kingdom became privatised in the mid-1990s and, in doing so, created a wide variety of rail companies. One of the major names in British train travel is Virgin.
Well known for air travel and mobile services, Virgin Group’s train division offers bargain rates and extensive routes, making it a top choice among travellers.
I embarked on one of the more popular routes, from Birmingham New Street to London Euston, in June 2011. The price was a large motivator for choosing Virgin and as long as your schedule is flexible and, more importantly, booked well ahead of time, the rates are extremely competitive.
The sleek looking train painted in grey, yellow and red, with Virgin’s signature across the side, made a good first impression. It looked clean and well maintained from the outside and the carriage marking letters were clearly discernible, making it easy to find my seat. I later discovered that it was one of their new models called the Pendolino, an energy efficient ‘green’ train that runs the New Street to Euston route among others.
There are several different options when deciding which ticket to purchase. Of course, there is first class and standard class, but you may also select a preference for window seat, aisle seat, table or one with a power socket. There is even the ability to request a ‘quiet’ coach in both standard and first class, that prohibits the use of mobile phones and encourages, you guessed it, a quiet atmosphere.
If you’re not in the quiet coach, Virgin advertises boosted mobile signals, so you’re sure to be able to get in touch with whomever you need to during your journey. Wi-fi is complimentary in first class and Virgin offers several ‘pay as you go’ packages for standard class.
The interior of the train was well looked after and my seat was exactly as promised. A printout with your reserved itinerary is attached to the top of the seat to let others know not to sit there.
I had requested a window seat with a table. The table was a decent size, big enough for four individuals to fit their laptops on, or a group of travel companions to play cards. Normally the biggest gripe with table seats is discovering an unpleasant, sticky substance or coffee rings left from previous passengers, but this table had been wiped clean and I could not see any evidence of litter. During the hour and a half journey, attendants came around three times with a bag collecting up any rubbish that may have accumulated. On one occasion, I was looking out of the window and, when I turned back towards the table, the employee had collected my empty wrappers without any prompting or disturbance. I was very pleased by the measures taken to keep the train clean.
Announcements were made, when first boarding the train, that there was an onboard shop to pick up some last minute snacks, drinks or reading material in one of the compartments. Normally an ‘onboard shop’ means something similar to a small cart being pushed down the aisles. When I went to stretch my legs, I was very surprised to discover that, on this train, it looked much more like a 24-hour convenience store with magazine racks and glass-fronted refrigerators stocked with drinks. The prices were not outrageously expensive either; rare for onboard services.
Another inevitable trip that must be made while on a long train journey, no matter how many preventative measures are taken, is to the toilets. This is a scary and apprehensive venture as the state of public restrooms, particularly those onboard moving vessels, are normally atrocious and small. The toilets on this Virgin train were marked as being behind a large, curved, grey wall with only a button to press to get inside. Curiously, I pressed the button and the entire wall slowly slid open to reveal a large, round room and stepping inside felt a bit like walking into an episode of Star Trek. The lavatory was surprisingly spacious, easily big enough to fit a wheelchair, stroller or luggage. Like everything else onboard, it was clean and in working order. The soap dispenser was filled and the automatic sink and dryer both worked. The buttons to open, close and lock the door were clearly marked and, just for added comfort, a button glowed “door locked”.
The return trip, also aboard one of the new trains, was more crowded and full of commuters travelling out of London back to their suburban homes. It was obvious that power sockets were in high demand, as many passengers had laptops.
As opposed to the first trip, the benefits of the quiet carriage became much more apparent and I would advise anyone travelling during peak hours to consider it.
I had booked a trip with Virgin Trains purely because of the cost but, after seeing the superb features of the Pendolino and the cleanliness throughout, I am eager to return to it. The journey was an unexpected success and I would recommend it highly.Write a Review