Once again, I had the “joy” of CrossCountry Trains again a few weekends ago and unsurprisingly, on a shoot to Manchester to work with a model for some photos for the holidays and beyond.
I’ve skipped driving long distances since my accident, but there are times where I thought “I should have driven”. This was one of these times.
As is common for me at the moment, I’m booking tickets using TrainPal (as they tend to throw offers and discounts around like candy, as well as being able to handle split-ticketing. In total, it took a £41.80 ticket down to £35.80.
£6 is £6. That’s an Uber ride or an overpriced cornish pastie at Piccadilly Station.
As I left booking until the last minute, I had no seats assigned – leaving me to the mercy of “unreserved coaches”.
And I was glad I got on at Birmingham New Street. Let’s put it like that.
CrossCountry’s timetable on a Saturday remains shambolic, with an hourly service at best between Birmingham and Manchester… after 11 am. At the time of travel, there was no 9:47 service, meaning the best service I could get was the 8:57 train.
8m on a Saturday morning is no fun for travel.
By the time the evening had arrived, the trains had switched to a full hourly timetable. However, this is a far cry from the half-hourly service pre-COVD.
A nine-car Voyager (made up of a five-car and a four-car unit) was used for the Outbound service, whilst the inbound service was compressed of two four-car voyagers – eight carriages in total.
As I was using “on the day” tickets with no reservations assigned, I prioritised finding unreserved carriages – of which CrossCountry has at least one per train
On the way out. I noted last time that even 9 cars couldn’t swallow up the passengers it needed to when the train filled at Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield.
Well, this time, the train filled up at Wolverhampton – the stop after Birmingham (as the local football club were playing away to Manchester City). The train was at capacity at Stafford – a good four stops from its terminus.
By the time it arrived at Stoke-on-Trent, the service was converted into a set-down service only- with no further passengers allowed onboard – and very few passengers leaving.
Wi-Fi was provisioned on the train for all to use, with a fair usage cap in place of 50Mb.
The speed is nothing to write home about.
Ticket Checks and onboard sales
On the outbound segment, ticket checks were only carried out via a barrier at Birmingham New Street. Due to the passenger load, no checks were carried out on board. At Manchester – to allow for passengers to move safely, the barriers were left open.
On the return segment, a ticket check was carried out on the platform by a member of staff on the platform (as the ticket barriers were open still) as well as by the ticket barriers at New Street. No checks were carried out on board.
The onboard catering was at fixed bases on the train due to the number of people on board.
Remember FootEx’s? Pepperidge Farm remembers…
In the past, there used to be something called a “FootEx” (or a Football Express/Reielf Train). The idea is that these football fans would mostly gravitate towards these trains to get from A to B, rather than take up the space on public trains.
These days, football clubs like charter coaches to send their fans to the match or direct them to public rail services, whilst having support from the British Transport Police.
Why do I bring this up?
With capacity tight at the best of times (thanks to CrossCountry still not getting a clue and running a half-hourly service, post-pandemic), passenger space is at a premium on these cross-axial routes – the very ones CrossCountry has bid to run.
With a trainload of football fans, combined with a higher than usual passenger load – there was only going to be one outcome – passengers left on the platform.
And that’s what happened from Stoke of Trent onwards – full platforms of passengers stranded. Now, I accept there are further options for passengers (including a local service that was getting pretty full by the time our train left the platform), but at a time when services are seemingly constrained by staff shortages – it isn’t helping.
It’s embarrassing at best – at worst, it’s a failure to operate an intensive timetable.
And CrossCountry – like it or not, cannot seem to operate an intensive timetable for love or money at this time. Although it seems other train operators are in exactly the same boat as absences are putting pressure on the availability of staff at the moment.
I should have taken the car. Honestly.
Most of you know that I accept driving not as a pleasure – but as a necessity. Combined with us all trying to be greener about how we travel in the world, trains should be one of the first options we should reach when going some reasonable distance.
And this time – I honestly thought it would have been cheaper, easier and more comfortable (if not for the leg) to take the car. The environments were mostly unpleasant with a lot of people aboard (and most of the fans unmasked, even though a mask mandate is active when travelling on public transport), with the train crammed solid for most of the journey.
That’s a pretty sad state of affairs.
Yet, the train companies will happily say “bend over and take it” – as they hold the cards in most respects – unless you want to risk the coach (and most of you know of my love of National Express) or drive.
And it is getting to the point where frequencies need to be restored and services expanded.
That will come as a shock to the government – who have pushed a leisure demand travel agenda to get people travelling again – who will now be in total shock that people want to travel beyond the peak hours.
Put it like this: I was meant to take the train down to Essex at Christmas and Liverpool over the new year. I bailed and took the car instead.
Heck, I’m meant to be taking the train to Essex in a few weeks for the Lunar New Year.
Until train companies can get a grip on trying to match capacity with demand, long-distance train travel for me is not in my future sadly.
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