I’m on my way to Lancaster for the graduation ceremony. This is the third Master’s degree I’ll be picking up. I then start on my PhD at Lancaster University in January.
Getting to the Station
In London I stayed at the old County Hall hotel, which is right next door to the London Eye and close to Waterloo station. The train to Lancaster will be leaving from Euston station, which is roughly 25 minutes away from Waterloo on the Northern line. Given the fact that the tube is prone to unexpected delays, I decide to make an early start. My train will be departing at 11h30. So I leave the hotel just after 10h00.
By the time I reach Euston, I still have an hour to spare before the train leaves. Luckily, Virgin Trains operate a First Class lounge at the station, which is located one floor up from the main public area and the platforms.
The First Class Lounge
The lounge is fairly busy when I arrive, but there is still plenty of room to sit. The lounge looks a lot like the many airline lounges I’ve been to at various airports around the world. In addition, there is also a bar, where you can order freshly brewed coffee. To eat there are mainly sweet snack items like biscuits or brownies.There is also complimentary wifi access in the lounge, which works surprisingly well.
Our train will be departing from platform seven and there is a ticket check just before you access the platform. The train seems quite busy. Even so, the queues for the ticket check are short and move quickly.Departure is exactly on time at 11h30. The journey time is announced at 2 hours and 24 minutes, which should get us into Lancaster at 13h54.
The seating configuration in First Class is 2 + 1, with seats facing each other. As a result, the leg space, while not tight, is somewhat limited and does not allow you to stretch your legs.Furthermore, there is a table across the full length of the compartment of four, which cannot be removed. So if you’re seated at the window and need to get out, the person on the aisle seat will have to move first.
Complimentary wifi is available on board and works very well.
I count four crew members working the First Class section. They’re polite and all, but somehow they all seem rather unhappy to be there and are not overly friendly either. The service comes across as being a bit rough and unpolished.
In First Class, Virgin Trains will serve you a complimentary meal of sorts, the content of which varies according to the time of day. There is a printed menu available at every table and there are various options to choose from.
The service begins when the crew pass through the cabin with drinks. There is a fairly large selection of alcoholic and soft drinks.
Next, one of the crew passes through the cabin with a choice of oatmeal biscuits or mini brownies. After that, two other crew members pass through the cabin offering either tea or coffee. I try the coffee, which is quite horrific. Apparently, the same goes for the tea, because that’s what the lady across the aisle has ordered and she’s positively outraged…And then after that comes the hot meal. They’re really just snacks that are easy to heat up in a microwave. I have the vegetarian option, which is some sort of bubble and squeak with a vegetarian pesto sausage. And this dish is just about as vile as the tea and coffee. I knew I should have bought a sandwich from Marks… But I will say that it’s nice to be able to use proper cutlery on a train, instead of some flimsy plastic.
Over all, the sequence of the meal service seems a bit random to me and doesn’t really follow any logical pattern. Once the meal service has ended, the crew come to remove all used items and advise the passengers to help themselves to the bottles of water that have been set up in the middle of the carriage.
By the time we reach Lancaster, the train has managed to pick up a delay of twenty minutes. Which is not really surprising on a British train, even though I also have to admit that I didn’t notice any period during the journey when the train was going exceptionally slow or even stopped. But it makes no difference to me, one way or another.
Lancaster station is located on the fringe of the town, roughly ten minutes on foot to the centre.
Virgin Trains has a pricing system similar to that of the airlines. For this trip I booked an advanced purchase, non-changeable and non-refundable ticket that was relatively cheap for a First Class ticket for a journey of more than two hours. Even so, the next time I make this journey, I don’t think I would buy a First Class ticket again. Seat comfort is not really that good and the catering they might just as well do away with completely in my opinion.