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Right Track Wrong Track Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 17:56 GMT
Right Track | Wrong Track
Over the past week, you have sent us your nominations for the worst and best train lines in the country. Today we put them to the test.

All day today, reporters Jonathan Duffy and Megan Lane are going on two mammoth rail journeys, a near-1000-mile round-trip, to take the temperature of the nation's railways.

Megan Lane and Jonathan Duffy
Lane and Duffy setting out
From your suggestions of the best and worst lines (see this article), the two routes indicated on the map have been worked out. Setting out with the morning commuter rush, if all goes according to plan both will reach the ends of their journeys when commuters are heading home.

Throughout the day, they will be keeping an ongoing weblog of the twists and turns their trips take. Click here for the most recent posting.

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details 0800 King's Cross - Glasgow, GNER
Delays Departed 11 minutes late
Extras Waiting for buffet car
Crowded? Got seat OK

Posted at 0820: This service was, according to your e-mails, one of the better lines. I'm afraid for me it all started off badly when the train was still stuck in the station. The announcement came "We apologise for the delay, we are experiencing signalling problems at Huntingdon, and track defects at Grantham. We expect a 15-20 minute delay."

Then at 0808, another announcement came: "This is your customer services manager, at the present time we are waiting for a driver. We apologise for the delay. You are on board the delayed 0800 service to Glasgow Central." At 0809 there was another announcement: "The driver has now arrived, he was delayed on the inbound service from the north. We are now going to carry out a couple of safety checks."

Megan Lane

Journey Details 0757 Reading - Waterloo, SWT
Delays Train cancelled - got 0742 instead
Crowded? Got seat, but others standing

Posted at 0825: It was clear from your e-mails that this line was definitely not one of your favourites. I planned to pick up the train in Staines, Middlesex, but when I got there I found the one I'd intended to catch had been cancelled. So I got on an earlier service, which because it was delayed left at almost the same time as my original train!

After struggling a bit with the slam door on the ancient carriage, I found one of the few remaining seats. Sat next to an office worker with over-powering after-shave. By the second stop, there was standing room only. Other passengers seemed to struggle with the doors too. Most of them are wearing the blank expressions of hardened commuters as they read their newspapers which criticise the strategic rail plan. Despite being up so early in order to get to Staines, I'm reluctant to lay my head back to catch 40 winks. The "blue" upholstery of the seat's head rest has been stained almost green by decades of greasy hair.

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details 0800 King's Cross - Glasgow, GNER
Delays Now running 13 minutes late

Posted at 0938: I've been talking to Damien Downing, a doctor who has travelled from London to York once a week for the past 10 years. He returns the following day.

Dr Damien Downing
Fellow passenger Damien Downing
He says: "When it works well; it's an excellent service because it's so quick to get to York. But delays are quite common now. It's got noticeably worse since privatisation.

"I'm supposed to get to the office [in York] shortly after 10. But you just can't book anything until after 11, because you don't know if you can keep your appointment. The trains are nice and clean and because I'm going against the flow of rush hour, there's no problem with overcrowding. But on several occasions I've been delayed by up to two and a half hours, mostly on the return journey to London.

Megan Lane

Journey Details 0910 Euston - Birmingham, Virgin
Delays Departed on time
Extras Trolley already out of Danishes
Crowded? One third of seats taken

Posted at 0940: I make the train (via the Tube from Waterloo) with only the 30 seconds to spare, having had a nail-biting wait for a ticket at Euston. As the queue built up, the sales agents seemed to abandon their posts and slip away one by one.

Crowds gather at Euston's ticket office
Just the ticket... for frustration
Having run for the train, I leap into the front carriage and make my way through first class (V. nice). I defiantly grab a complimentary newspaper (probably shouldn't have, but at 47 for a one-way standard ticket I think I deserve something to read).

I settle into my standard class seat (V. ordinary) and hungrily await the trolley woman - and am non-plussed to find the only vaguely breakfasty fare on offer is a Jaffa muffin.

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details 0800 King's Cross - Glasgow, GNER
Delays Now about 15 minutes late

Posted at 0952: Despite the delayed start, we have been whistling through the countryside (Lincolnshire, I think). We have been warned several times of expected delays around Grantham, because of track problems, but they don't appear to have materialised. Nevertheless, we are probably about 15 minutes behind schedule and this throws into questions whether I will make my connection to Manchester, which is due to leave York at 10.19.

Ticket btw was 63.50. Cup of coffee and Danish: 1.70. Buffet staff v pleasant - the guy serving even wanted to shake hands with me.

0951: Spoke too soon - just come to a stop in the middle of nowhere.

Megan Lane

Journey Details 0910 Euston - Birmingham, Virgin
Delays Still on schedule

Posted at 1020: Pulling out of Coventry and everything seems to be going as planned, despite the occasional (and rather disconcerting) halt.

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details 1019 York- Manch'r, Arriva Northern
Delays Departed on time
Extras Trolley service, toilets not too clean
Crowded? Plenty of seats

Posted at 1039: I eventually got into York 10 minutes late, but in time to get a ticket for the train to Manchester. My colleagues in London tell me there has been a train derailment on this line between Leeds and Blackburn, but the station information folk don't think it's going to affect my journey.

Some of your e-mails didn't paint a wonderful picture of this service. This train though is modern and clean, and there are plenty of seats. There's a trolley car, the toilets are bit dirty, but it's on time and all's going well.

Megan Lane

Journey Details 0910 Euston - Birmingham, Virgin
Delays Arrived 1057, seven mins late

Posted at 1100: TXT MSG: 7 MINS L8! TRAIN STOPD SHY OF BMGHAM 2 'WAIT 4 A PLATFRM' PLUS ESCLATOR 2 TICKT OFICE BROKEN! (15/01 10.57)

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details 1019 York- Manch'r, Arriva Northern
Delays Still on time

Posted 1150: I've been speaking to Nick Frigieri, a charity worker, travelling from Leeds to Brighouse with two colleagues to do street collection for Oxfam. "We were due to get the 0949 from Leeds to Brighouse but about the time it should've gone it just disappeared from the board for about 10 minutes.

The view inside the carriage
"Nothing was said and so after a while I had a chat with the inquiries people and they said there had been a derailment. They said we'd have to wait an hour for the 1049 service but eventually that was cancelled.

"So I phoned up National Rail Inquiries and they told us to go to Huddersfield and from there get a train to Brighouse. We're due in about 1140 although I think it'll be more like midday from what they're saying. If everything had gone to plan, we'd have got in at 1040. So we've missed an hour's worth of collecting time for Oxfam."

"I travel on the train about four or five times a week so I'm used to it really. It's been better recently though."

Megan Lane

Journey Details 1129 Birm'ham - Cardiff, Central Trains
Delays Departed on time
Extras Buffet trolley woefully under-stocked
Crowded? Train empty, so table seats for all!

Posted at 1150: I head into the smelly bowels of Birmingham New Street and before me stands a filthy two-carriage conveyance. Uh-oh! Fortunately this turns out to be a stray and my near-gleaming train soon arrives.

Birmingham New Street
Farewell, smelly New Street
At this time of day, space isn't exactly at a premium. My fellow passengers (young mums and some business types) can each spread out at a table of their own. The seats are brand-spanking new and of a quality sadly not matched by the tinny PA system. I strain to hear if I am even on the right train.

Setting off on time, I'm ready for an early lunch. Foiled! The trolley boasts not a single sandwich - only crisps and miniature bottles of wine!

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details Waiting at Manchester
Delays Departure 27 mins late
Posted at 1225: TXT MSG: DLAYED AGN. 1217 VIRGIN TRN 2 PENZANCE VIA BHAM RUNING ABT 27 MINS L8. SPEED RSTRCNS 2 BLME (15/01 12.25)

Megan Lane

Journey Details 1129 Birm'ham - Cardiff, Central Trains
Delays Halted for 10 mins

Posted at 1226: Back on the move after being parked up at Cheltenham Spa. Was that a scheduled stop? Who can tell, thanks to the dire PA system.

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details Still waiting at Manchester
Delays Departure 27 mins late

PHONE: Stuck on a platform in Manchester (Click to listen)

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details 1217 Manch'r-Birm'ham, Virgin
Delays 27 mins late
Extras Train dirty
Crowded? Plenty of seats

Posted at 1315: We eventually left Manchester at 1244, with no platform announcement or explanation as to why we were late.

We did get an acknowledgement that we should arrive in Birmingham half an hour behind schedule. Think this will throw my connection plans out.

The Virgin Cross Country train itself is very dirty on the outside, meaning it's hard to see through the windows. Inside it's a bit ropey - stains on the carpet, door at the end of the carriage won't shut - but otherwise OK.

Departure board
This was the train I caught...I'm so sad

I'm starting to think that my interest in trains - taking pictures of boring details - is a bit unhealthy and that I might look like a hi-tech trainspotter.

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details 1217 Manch'r-Birm'ham, Virgin
Extras 3 toilets out of order

Posted at 1356: Compared to the GNER train that I took to York, these InterCity-style carriages are in a sorry state.

toilet door
One of the three toilets out of order
While some of the connecting doors zap open when you approach, others need to be yanked aside to get from one carriage to another.

While it's blue skies and clear sunshine outside, we here are bathed in muted daylight, thanks to the grubby windows.

Three of the toilets in standard class are out of order, and passengers are voicing their tetchiness about the delays to each other.

However, teas and coffees are on the house, by way of an apology for the delay. (Perhaps fear of a stampede to the buffet car has meant this information is on a need to know basis - you only find out about the offer when you go to pay for it.)

Megan Lane

Journey Details Arrive in Cardiff - early

PHONE: Didn't expect that to happen! (Click to listen)

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details Stranded at Birmingham
Delays Arrived 25 mins late

Posted at 1445: Finally pulled up in Birmingham, but the delay means I've missed my next connection. I'll have to browse the magazine racks.

Megan Lane

Journey Details 1400 Cardiff - Bristol, Wales and Borders Trains
Delays Left 40 mins ahead of my schedule
Extras Buffet trolley? What buffet trolley?
Crowded? Seats plentiful, but lurid.

Posted at 1450: It appears not even National Rail Enquiries staff can read a timetable. Had expected an hour's wait at Cardiff, but find there is a train 40 minutes earlier!

Retraced my Central Trains route out of Cardiff, only on my new train the ride seems far bumpier and much colder (albeit very clean). Is there any heating on this train? Am now getting very peckish, with no prospect of a buffet trolley.

PHONE: Spoke to a fellow passenger, Geoff Canning, 42, from Northern Ireland. He uses the trains a lot, criss-crossing the country, and here is his verdict. (Click to listen)

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details Stranded at Birmingham
Delays Arrived 25 mins late

Posted at 1515: Had enough of the magazine racks so am passing the time at an internet cafe in downtown Brum.

The Virgin service was 25 minutes late. That left me five minutes to make the dash from New Street station to Moor Street, where the Chiltern trains leave from.

I could have just got a Virgin connection from New Street to Euston, but I'm looking forward to some of Chiltern's TLC that BBC News Online users rated so highly.

There's a story in the Daily Sport today about a woman who claims to have had an intimate romantic liaison on a Virgin train. Hope it was cleaner than the one I've just been on!

Megan Lane

Journey Details 1545 Bristol - Paddington, First Great Western
Delays Left on time
Extras A well stocked buffet car
Crowded? Comfy seats

Posted at 1556: It's with some trepidation that I step aboard the train back to London. My progress so far today has been pretty smooth, so according to the law of averages I'm due my share of the troubles which plague the UK's rail passengers.

We leave on time, which raises my hopes of making it into Paddington on schedule at 1728. Fingers crossed. The only hitch so far is being in a backwards facing seat...easily fixed.

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details 1533 Birmingham - London, Chiltern
Delays On time
Crowded? Not too crowded

Posted at 1612: With just two platforms, and one ticket office, Birmingham's Moor Street station is like a local airstrip compared to New Street's Heathrow.

But given New Street's notorious problems with under capacity, that might not be a bad thing.

The 1533 Chiltern "Clubman" service swept in at 1532, and out again a minute later. Many of your e-mails about this line led me to have quite high expectations, and I wasn't disappointed.

The carriages are clean and comfortable, overhead scrolling electronic boards announce which stop you are at, and which one is next.

Above the gentle hum of the motor is a studious silence. There's no beeping of mobile phones, tinny sound of personal stereos, or annoying conversations to overhear.

The carriage is relatively uncrowded at the moment, but it seems the passengers who are here are playing a part in making things more pleasant.

Megan Lane

Journey Details 1545 Bristol - Paddington, First Great Western
Delays Arrived one minute early

Posted at 1730: It's 1727 and I'm stepping off the train several minutes earlier than I had expected.

Since 0750, I've travelled almost 500 miles across the UK. I started in the commuter haven of Staines, struggled into London, then up to Birmingham, over to Cardiff, down to Bristol and am now back in the capital.

The journey has cost 111.60 and much of my day (at least six hours) has been spent actually on the move - rather than waiting on platforms. I've lost a mere 15 minutes to delays.

What made this feat even more surprising is that my route has taken me on trains owned by five different companies - some of which have earned the ire of their passengers.

Did the train operators make a special effort today, knowing that I was checking up on them?

Jonathan Duffy

Journey Details 1533 Birmingham - London, Chiltern
Delays Arrived on time

Posted at 1758: The doors of the Chiltern train glide open at 1745 on the dot. It's been the most pleasant ride of the entire day.

Although this train wasn't delayed, I'm back in London an hour later than I planned thanks to problems throughout my 500-mile, 117.70 journey.


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BBC News Online's in-depth coverage on the state of the UK's railways


10 year rail plan

1,000 MILE RAIL TRIP
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14 Jan 02 | UK
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