I travel a lot by train now, although I will be learning to drive again shortly, so increase your life insurance especially if you live in Edinburgh. I digress; the difference in standards between different train companies is massive, especially when it comes to customer service and cleanliness.
Although many Scots will disagree I think Scotrail is one of the best rail companies out there, although I can hear the people already screaming, why?
You have to understand, I lived for 14 years in Dartford, Kent where we had to endure Connex South East, their trains were constantly late, if not cancelled and were more often than not dirty and if there was one drop of rain, or snow all hell broke out and then we often had the wrong types of leaves on the line.
So in comparison Scotrail is just awesome. The trains are clean, on time, comfortable, have staff, catering facilities and on the whole are quite regular. I know in parts of Scotland there are battles to increase services because of sparse timetables, certainly when my Mum and Sister lived in Ardgay, it didn't have the most frequent service. On the whole though they are a good company.
Today I have travelled from Edinburgh to Bournemouth, and therefore used Virgin Trains and Cross Country Trains (which obviously used to be Virgin Trains as the branding and colour schemes, even down to the carpet are exactly the same). It was like spot the difference.
I also use the National Express East Coast mainline service quite a lot so the following comparison is based on the three companies first class service in the last few days.
National Express East Coast mainline
Date of travel - Monday 14th September 2009
General cleanliness was good, although the toilet was absolutely filthy so I actually walked to the next carriage (yes, it was that bad), the little white trays on the tables that hold the sugar bowls etc I don't think they had been cleaned in months.
The complimentary newspaper was The Scotsman and that was handed out, the complimentary drinks were being served throughout the journey, although the complimentary refreshments range was very limited - tea, coffee, water, orange juice and shortbread.
The staff are all regulars, I recognised most of them from previous trips, that to me is a good sign, staff tend to stay with a company that looks after them, all helpful and polite.
Date of travel - Thursday 17th September 2009
The general cleanliness was awful, despite the first class section only being three quarters of one carriage, the tables were dirty and hadn't been cleared properly or wiped down, there was food debris and rubbish all over the floor and cups and glasses had only been placed on odd tables here and there.
The complimentary newspaper was The Times, these had just been left in a pile at the back, so I only noticed them when I went to the toilet, nothing was handed out but this was probably because the second member of catering staff just stood in the buffet car propping up the counter. If you wanted a drink you had to go to the buffet car and fetch it yourself, although I had no problem with that.
Where Virgin excel is with the range of complimentary products available for first class passengers - tea, coffee (in smaller cups than paying guests), a limited range of alcoholic drinks, crisps, newspapers, chocolate brownie and sandwiches.
The staff in the buffet car were very polite, but never came near first class. The member of staff from the cleaning team was excellent but this was let down by the fact that the carriage had not been cleaned at Waverley.
Cross Country Trains
Date of travel - Thursday 17th September 2009
Although the first class section was very busy the general cleanliness was excellent. The member of staff was fantastic, very attentive and was with you as soon as the train left the station with newspapers and refreshments. The member of staff from the cleaning team was very chirpy but discreet.
Although the member of staff was round with the trolley quickly and frequently, I was never sure what the complimentary range was apart from tea and coffee.
My only complaint was that the air conditioning was on too cold and my nipples stayed hard from Wolverhampton to Bournemouth.
Top of the class was Cross Country Trains with 9 out of 10, second place went to National Express East Coast mainline with 7 out of 10 and bringing up the rear, was bottom of the class Richard Branson's Virgin Trains with just 2 out of 10.
Virgin Trains must try harder, look at sorting out the cleaning operation at the turnaround stations and generally improve their customer service and cleanliness. I challenge Richard Branson to join me on Wednesday 23rd September on the return run to see what we, the paying customers actually have to endure on his trains.
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