Trip Report: Four Trains and Wedding.
- Introduction, Birmingham New Street to London Euston, London Liverpool Street to Norwich
- The Holiday Inn Norwich and a Wedding
- Norwich to London Liverpool Street, a quick lunch and London Marylebone to Birmingham Snow Hill
Time for something different for the summer season. Prices are still sky-high for flying, and I’m not paying my hard-earned cash on expensive fares which I can get better at better price a different time of year.
So this year, I’m featuring some different travels (or train checks? Train checks. That works), that focus on UK Travel
After all, GhettoIFE.com is a travel blog.
Confusion, madness, or what is known as pricing on the railways.
The railways in the United Kingdom have a nasty habit of being very expensive unless you know what you’re doing. It almost makes airline pricing look like a simple art.
I had reason to be in Norwich – and no it’s not for Alan Partridge.
It was for a friend’s wedding… the one who got my backside off my sofa, and into the air. How could I say no?
Railways have adopted the lovely methods of pricing airfares – by capacity management and ticket buckets – roughly split into:
- Advanced fares (Fixed tickets with trains you MUST be on, or you buy a new fare – sometimes the cheapest. Available in First and Standard)
- Super Off Peak (Semi-Flexible tickets with severe restrictions on when they can be used – normally reasonable)
- Off-Peak (Tickets outside the peak hours of travel in the UK… although how some train companies describe Off-Peak is completely mad)
- Standard (The full price walk-up fare)
- First (Yes, we do first class seats as well)
Got that all in your minds? Well a lot of people have trouble fitting it in their minds too.
Let’s demonstrate this with this trip, which takes me from Birmingham to Norwich, an overnight at a hotel, and back again.
For ticketing there are numerous sources that will pull different pricing and different routes. For example, National Rail Enquiries will sell me an outbound for £26 via Derby and across the middle of the United Kingdom whilst Red Spotted Hanky will sell a ticket that will route me through London of all places for £4 more.
Similarly, on the way back, National Rail wasn’t able to price up a cheap single ticket – throwing out a full price ticket, where Red Spotted Hanky posted a £12 fare between Norwich and Birmingham via London.
So what’s the first lesson we pick up here? Use More than one fare search engine. You’ll get varying results if you don’t… and these have a DIRECT impact on your wallet.
I chose Red Spotted Hanky for two reasons – it could sell me a 1) £12 return segment and 2) I had £10 worth of vouchers that reduced the rail travel bill to a grand total £32, including tube transfers at peak.
Heck, I can’t drive for that price.
My plans on the way home were changed due to me realising it was my mothers birthday, so I decided to abandon the pre-booked London-Birmingham segment, and switch to the good olde Chiltern Mainline for the final leg.
As for the hotel – my friends had decided to have a civil ceremony at the Holiday Inn Norwich, Ipswich Road. Ok, so there may be some tasty Priority Club Points too. That works for me.
Ready for this? Lets go!
If there’s one thing I regret, it’s the 4:30 in the morning wake up call so I can be out of the flat for 5am, and on the train by 5:30
As I’m away for a day or so, and I need to keep semi smart, I’m talking the wheeliecase and the Pan Am Baggie (containing a smaller camera bag inside it for later).
Travelling lighter than normal…
Towards the City Centre – The National Indoor Arena in the distance.
My local minicab company charged the usual fiver to get me to the station, and I descended into Birmingham New Street’s inner layers.
The main foyer area
As it’s 5ish in the morning, the coffee shop has barely opened, and there are no ticket inspectors on duty – so it was swiftly down to the platform to await my train.
The train pulled in early (as the 5:30 always seems to) and I headed aboard.
Virgin Trains 05:29 Birmingham New Street to London Euston
Class 390 “Pendolino”
Even though this is a “fast” service, it clocks in at a slow 1 hour 33 minutes to London as it stops at all major points (Birmingham International, Coventry, Rugby, Milton Keynes Central, Watford and finally London Euston. Not overly fast (as the route can be done in 1 hour 20), but better than National Express coaches or the London Midland service (which takes 2 hours plus)
Seating in Standard Class
A reason for selecting tables: A power socket
Emptyish as the first train is
The train was empty for first thing in the morning, so there was plenty of room to stretch out and relax. The seats were reasonably comfortable – if a bit hard, but it seemed to do the job for 1 and a half hours.
The train pulled out on time, and I investigate the WiFi aboard. Yes, we do have WiFi aboard trains.
It’s not expensive, but its £4 is… not what I’d pay for this length of journey.
The train begun its journey, picking up passengers as it goes – being the first express train of the morning.
Sunrise through the seats
Airline style seating
Seating aboard is a mixture of table and airline style seating. In Standard Class, if you want a power socket for your laptop (as the battery in my 3 ½ year old Macbook Pro is turning more into a firecracker each day). Still, it’s not crammed in, and it does what I wanted – provided a space to clear down some space on the laptop.
Whilst the Pendolinos are nice fast trains, they do suffer from their design, with a seemingly narrow profile (thanks to the tilting train equipment installed), the worst seat alignment against a window (nearly a quarter of the seats don’t line up or have a partial window view). But even when the train took on a full load at Milton Keynes Central – it didn’t feel full to the brim
Zipping through the English countryside.
“Fly Virgin Trains…” Hmm.
Leaving Milton Keynes, it was a sprint down the West Coast Main line towards Watford and London, with a sure sign we’re entering London when we cross the M25 border
A short stop at Watford Junction to allow passengers to connect to local services, and the train headed towards Euston station, where it arrived on schedule.
Overall: Whilst the Pendolino isn’t the last word in comfort, it does certainly do the job. I just wish Virgin Trains were a bit easier on the fares that they charge between Birmingham and London at peak…
Remember this nameplate – we’ll come back to it in a bit.
Exiting the train, I was near the back of it, requiring a long hike into the station – and its interesting to watch the sea of humanity heading for the exit
The busy Euston Concourse
Departures board to local, regional and Scottish destinations.
Sadly, I wasn’t in the mood to hang around, as I had to be over at another rail terminal in London – and for this, I needed to go underground. For this route, I chose the simple Northern Line to Kings Cross, Circle/Metropolitan to Liverpool Street route, rather than hiking to Euston Square.
It’s all swings and roundabouts when it comes to the tube.
The tube was…well… it was 7:10 when I entered the tube, and it was… relatively quiet.
…on the Northern Line
Even on the Met, it was… quiet.
If there was a part of this journey I was dreading, it was that segment. With that done and dusted, I emerged at an olde friend of mine – London Liverpool Street.
When I was a lot younger, this was the terminal I was in and out of in London the most – as my home is on the Great Eastern Main Line.
If there is a station that could describe commuter land, Liverpool Street is that. Whilst it serves some long haul services, the main focus is to get the commuters in from Essex and Hertfordshire.
Still – there were things I needed to do – and one of those was to get a tie. Well – I was going to be going to a wedding wasn’t I?
Once that expensive exercise was complete, boarding for the service to Norwich was ready.
Greater Anglia 07:55 Service to Norwich
Class 90/0 + Mark 3 coaching stock
The route is what I call the classic Great Eastern Mainline route – Straight to Colchester, then Ipswich, Diss and finally Norwich. In a lot of respects this route is my “home” route, as I come from a town on the route, and used to have the trains rumble past my window (heck, I could tell the time by the trains when I was young – it helped me get up in time for school…)
There is one nice thing boarding a train in London at this time of day: You’re going away from the traffic.
The train itself is another familiar friend as this sort of train used to ply the London to Birmingham route (and I swear this train has dragged me/pushed me across that route more than once in the past)
90002 was one of the first Virgin Trains painted for service, called “Mission: Impossible” (as some called upgrading the West Coast Main Line was an impossible mission. Train-set 390153 was named Mission: Accomplished to signify the completion of the project).
I headed aboard, and to my seat and well.
Submitted without comment.
Seating aboard these classic Mark III coaches isn’t a bad thing in the least – they’re well upholstered (these seats last refurbished by Virgin Trains), have reasonable padding, and yes – they still the thing of the seat tipping up if you slide too far forward in them.
Still, the train pulled out on schedule, and then begun its trek along the Great Eastern Mainline.
Local trains heading out of London.
The City of London in the far distance
Whilst the service is meant to be an express, there was a train in front of us that was anything but express, with the train taking its time, adding an extra 10 minutes to the journey. Not the end of the world, but not great.
As the train left London, I took advantage of the £3 for 2 hours of WiFi aboard the train… and that’s great – except there were no power sockets on these trains (and Greater Anglia has no intention of fitting them).
Still, could be worse. The battery can last 2 hours (just).
As the train pootled along the Great Eastern Mainline, it passed my hometown of Chelmsford
Central Park – days of misspent youth there.
The train continued is slow pootling for a while, until it reached Marks Tey, where the train sped up for the run into Colchester. From Colchester, the train ran at line speed, passing, the River Stour – dividing Essex and Suffolk.
From there, the train headed into Ipswich, and the main line stations to Norwich.
The ride at speed was comfortable (as the Mark III coaches tend to be), and before I knew it – Crown Point Depot was to the right of me, indicating the train was on final approach for Norwich
The train came to a gentle stop at Norwich station – the end of the line.
Once through the ticket barriers, it was time to check where I was going, and off into a taxi.
Overall: Whilst not a top flight service compared to the West Coast, East Coast or Great Western Main Line, the Great Eastern Main Line and Greater Anglia Railways serve and important arterial links between Norfolk and London. The rolling stock whilst dated, is comfortable, and the Internet access was reasonably priced for the two hour journey.
Next: The Holiday Inn Norwich, and a Wedding