Today I was treated to a journey to Leeds on a National Express train. The thing is, I booked the tickets through the Virgin web site, and half expected to travel on a Virgin train. It turns out that Virgin don’t ‘fly’ out of Kings Cross, and so it was that I ended up on what I now consider to be the wrong train entirely.
A Virgin train ride (in First Class) includes access to the lounge area at the stations (unless it is Euston, which at the time of writing is undergoing refurbishment), all food, all drink (including alcohol) and a pendolino train with free wifi (no need to register). More subtle benefits of Virgin include more pleasant announcements and less of them, too, but more informative, somehow.
Compare and contrast that with National Express…
No lounge access unless you pay full fare (so no advance single ticket holders allowed), no food included, trains that lean unexpectedly as if on an adverse camber, wifi that is slow as slow can be (and frequently drops out), and needs you to divulge too much personal info for my liking. On top of that the announcements are at many decibels more than they need to be, and repeated at least three times at every station. Something about needing to have a ticket and if it’s the wrong ticket having to pay full fare to get the right ticket… ad infinitum.
Given that advanced tickets on Virgin cost the same, and you get so much more, and working on the assumption that VIrgin trains also make a profit (which they may not, of course), how can National Express justify their level of service?
Now don’t get me wrong – the staff on NX (!) are pleasant and polite… but so are they on Virgin. And it may be that I’ve been particularly unfortunate in that each NX journey (East Coast) I’ve taken has been spectacularly similar. I can’t help but come to the conclusion that NX are overpriced, underserviced and not particularly the best experience of rail travel.