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Author Topic: A first Cross Country journey in over three years.  (Read 2879 times)
eightonedee
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« on: January 24, 2023, 20:42:14 »

My wife and I undertook our longest train trip since lockdown last Friday. It was a sad occasion, as unfortunately one of her longest standing friends (they met at school when both were 11 years old) died suddenly in Liverpool in December. The funeral was to take place at Liverpool’s Springfield Crematorium.  Looking at the alternatives for an afternoon funeral, it seemed that we could get up and back in a day comfortably by train, and on-line investigations indicated that there was a convenient outward and back journey at the very reasonable price of £34-30 a head, albeit with tickets only valid on the specified timed trains. This involved using Cross Country on part of the journey, and changing to (or from) West Midlands Trains for the balance to Liverpool South Parkway, a short walk to the crematorium.  It was time therefore to use Cross Country for the first time since 2019, and experience “provincial” rail travel away from the south east and the tourist areas of Cornwall or the Highlands for the first time since too.
 
Our outward Cross Country service was one starting from Reading for Manchester Piccadilly. We had our allotted seat in the front of two 4-car sets. Although quite a few seats were shown as booked from Reading, they were not filled before we left. The train did fill to a reasonable level on the way to Birmingham New Street, where we changed trains. On the way back we changed at Wolverhampton, and had to politely ask someone occupying our seats to vacate for us. This service was busier, and although the waiting room on platforms 2 & 3 at Wolverhampton Station is not a place I would recommend for a 40-minute wait, when we saw how crowded platform 1 at New Street was, we were pleased that we did not change there. The train seating was almost full after New Street – a couple stood in our coach, but could have found two empty seats if they wished before their early departures before Coventry.
Apart from this the Cross Country experience was very much as before. I find the Voyagers comfortable enough, there was a poor selection on the trolley, but everything was reasonably clean, the train manager cheerful and timekeeping good throughout. No “loo smells” remarked on by others on this forum in the passenger saloon, and no more that the loo-cleaner smell you get on many trains of other operators when passing the toilets on the way out.

The stages ticketed as West Midlands Trains were branded London Northwestern, and used class 350 units (the OHL (Over-Head Line) versions of the Siemens trains used by SWT (South West Trains)). On the way up it was a nicely refurbished and repainted unit with four-across seating and armrests, and useful screens with current time, and rotating displays showing respectively the destination, calling points with times on a simplified map and the name of the next station stop. Bizarrely, this refused to acknowledge that we had stopped at Winsford, or the stations we called at up to and including Runcorn, but then “woke up” again and caught up with the Liverpool South stop. Apart from a slight tendency to hunt from side to side at speed, it was a reasonably comfortable experience.

On the way back however the unit we rode in was still in London Midland colours, with a tired green-upholstered interior, minimal train information and five-across seating, a notably less comfortable experience. Both trains were two 4-car sets, but at many stops (including Liverpool South), it was “front four coaches only” door opening.  At Liverpool South the furthest stop board was for 7 coach trains, so presumably these units do not have the ability to open part only the doors on a set. But why did someone, when Liverpool South was rebuilt about 15 years ago, not ensure that 8-car trains could be accommodated? Or have trains of this length only started running here after it was completed? It was slightly galling to see that the second set on our return journey was a refurbished 4-across set when it pulled out past us after we got off at Wolverhampton.  Time keeping was fine on the way up, but 6 minutes late to Wolverhampton.

As regards the stations, Liverpool South looks quite impressive from the outside, and has adequate lifts and a couple of catering outlets in the entrance concourse. A black mark for Merseyrail, its operator though was that all the station toilets were closed at the same time for refurbishment, especially considering that this is the interchange station for Liverpool John Lennon Airport. When my wife went to the information desk and was informed of this having found the overbridge loos closed, she was asked unhelpfully “why didn’t you go on the train”!  It was also the first time in many years at Wolverhampton.  The passenger information system was notably outdated – no stopping zones or any indication as to where particular coaches of our service might stop, but fortunately there was cheerful and helpful staff member on hand to help. The waiting room on platforms 2/3 was small and tatty, with torn seats. It is a shame this was not addressed in the re-modelling that has taken place since my last visit.

A couple of other incidental observations from the trip. Firstly, instead of the orange square and white numbering for zones on platforms we get down south, in WCML (West Coast Main Line) territory (where used!), it’s yellow circles and black numbers. Secondly, it was notable how empty many of the station carparks were on a Friday.

So, overall this was a reasonably satisfactory experience notwithstanding the minor gripes above. Yes, it could be better, but it was far from the “broken railway” experience that the press indicates applies outside London, and a more attractive proposition than taking on the M6 and motorways around Birmingham by car.  Perhaps there is hope after all!
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Sleepy
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« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2023, 00:05:47 »

  Shocked Grin A pleasant shock to hear of a decent journey involving Cross Country for a change !!!
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Mark A
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« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2023, 10:48:31 »

When my wife went to the information desk and was informed of this having found the overbridge loos closed, she was asked unhelpfully “why didn’t you go on the train”! 

Another response might be "One moment, I'll ask a colleague to unlock the staff toilets for you."
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Mark A
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« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2023, 11:03:54 »

Yes, it could be better, but it was far from the “broken railway” experience that the press indicates applies outside London, and a more attractive proposition than taking on the M6 and motorways around Birmingham by car.  Perhaps there is hope after all!

Is it that your journey didn't touch the more horked of the TOCs (Train Operating Company)?

Is Crosscountry on the fence here as it's running a somewhat acceptable service for some, but doing so at the cost of having withdrawn from several traffic flows (while maintaining a stranglehold as the fare setter for various traffic flows e.g. the likes of Bristol to Birmingham). The positive to this is that Crosscountry's chronic shortage of seats *is* being managed, and yes, many people like the Voyagers. I do until the seat reservations system goes into musical chairs mode.

You didn't though need to touch Avanti or TPE (Trans Pennine Express).

Avanti's woes have been well publicised, the cause of Transpennine Express less so as their woes are apparently partly down a decision to change in the way they roster crew for their trains, which gives staff less flexibility when it comes to route learning and excess crew swaps on through trains, leading to fragility when people are prevented from being where they need to be by disruption.

... and a more attractive proposition than taking on the M6 and motorways around Birmingham by car.  Perhaps there is hope after all!

Amen to that.

Mark
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Clan Line
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« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2023, 11:23:00 »


On the way back however .................. a tired ............. interior, minimal train information and five-across seating, a notably less comfortable experience.


I think you must have got onboard a Cardiff - Portsmouth train by mistake !
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eightonedee
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« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2023, 13:36:09 »

Quote
Is it that your journey didn't touch the more horked of the TOCs (Train Operating Company)▸ ?

Is Crosscountry on the fence here as it's running a somewhat acceptable service for some, but doing so at the cost of having withdrawn from several traffic flows (while maintaining a stranglehold as the fare setter for various traffic flows e.g. the likes of Bristol to Birmingham).

Maybe, but there will be other TOCs (or whatever they are now called under the new regime!) that are perhaps not horked, and while slightly off the subject of this board, this was a journey with two operators.  And I agree that it is likely that it has helped that some services have been withdrawn, having myself commented on the withdrawal of the useful Reading-Newcastle service, and welcomed news of its reinstatement from May.

For what it is worth, during the journey the only cancellation I saw on the departure boards was a Trans-Pennine service from Liverpool to Cleethorpes, notwithstanding that there was clearly a considerable volume of Northern traffic through Liverpool South Parkway.

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ChrisB
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« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2023, 16:35:10 »

Is Crosscountry on the fence here as it's running a somewhat acceptable service for some, but doing so at the cost of having withdrawn from several traffic flows (while maintaining a stranglehold as the fare setter for various traffic flows e.g. the likes of Bristol to Birmingham). The positive to this is that Crosscountry's chronic shortage of seats *is* being managed, and yes, many people like the Voyagers.

Interesting comment - XC (Cross Country Trains (franchise)) do own/run the Bristol-Birmingham service so they ought to be the fare setter? Did you mean Bristol - Manchester flow?
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Mark A
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« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2023, 17:41:44 »

Interesting comment - XC (Cross Country Trains (franchise)) do own/run the Bristol-Birmingham service so they ought to be the fare setter? Did you mean Bristol - Manchester flow?

Indeed, but the travel on that route's peppered with split ticketing opportunities, yes?

Not thinking of Bristol - Manchester as it's a casualty of XC pulling in their resources to other routes.

As an aside, I didn't realise that Bristol has a daily service to Leicester. (It's heading for Stanstead Airport and leaves Bristol at 06:24 to call at a slew of useful destinations for connections into the lines north of London - useful for encumbered early risers and sees a peppering of advance fare quota...)

Mark

https://www.realtimetrains.co.uk/service/gb-nr:C71287/2023-01-27
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readytostart
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« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2023, 03:57:22 »


As an aside, I didn't realise that Bristol has a daily service to Leicester. (It's heading for Stanstead Airport and leaves Bristol at 06:24 to call at a slew of useful destinations for connections into the lines north of London - useful for encumbered early risers and sees a peppering of advance fare quota...)

Mark

https://www.realtimetrains.co.uk/service/gb-nr:C71287/2023-01-27

That train used to run off a unit from Tyseley, would come down on the back of the first Birmingham to Cardiff and split off and start from Gloucester. It’s started from Temple Meads since 170s started being stabled at Barton Hill in Bristol to save empty stock / crew movements.
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