Virgin trains 1st class - don't believe the hype
Virgin's great achievement was to introduce new trains on the route a few years ago, the swish looking Pendolino tilt trains manage 125mph (200km/h) operating speed, although they could go faster if the tracks permitted it. The fare in first class varies a lot, from £40 to £180 one way. At peak times you'll pay no less than £135 each way, so it's quite something - and remember the taxpayer is subsidising the Virgin Trains franchise to the tune of around £80 million this year, so beardie does well from passengers and the taxpayer. So what do you get for your money?
Clearly the benefit of going by rail is twofold. First, without security checks, you can board the train up to 2 minutes before it departs assuming you already have your tickets (which depending on how soon you booked may have to be printed out at the station). The convenience and ease of switching trains (which run half hourly) beats flying anytime, although you have to pay at least £110 one way for an open ticket, £180 in first class. The second benefit is that it is a relaxing way to travel, once you are on board you can enjoy a good two and a bit hours of working, reading or relaxing, with every table having 2 power points (no good if four are at a table though), and the train swift and quiet enough to enable concentration. However, the quiet coach isn't free from insipid announcements (3 in a row as you leave, and typically loud if you are close to a speaker), and none of the seats recline.
London's Euston station is the newest and the most functionally plain of the London rail terminals. Virgin trains offers a First Class lounge, but don't get too excited. It is not far different than a US airline domestic lounge. There is a big TV, a bar (with an adequate selection of alcohol but at 7.30am it's juice, water, tea and coffee for most) and some seating, although not very much. There only snacks are potato crisps and nuts, hardly first class.
However, when you finally board your train it doesn't look too bad. Three abreast seating, almost all at tables. You're offered a free copy of the Times and a menu for breakfast. The seats are wide enough and adequately comfortable for the 2 hr 10-25min trip (depending on stops). However as most seats are at tables you do face worrying about whether you'll be joined by a stranger or two or three (as in one instance). The inspired decision by Virgin Trains to make 3.5 carriages first class (compared to 4 second class) usually means there is space to spread out, and the quiet coach is helpful (although there is often someone who forgets and uses a mobile phone).
Then the breakfast service starts. Breakfast is very welcome catching a train at 0735, and starts with coffee and tea being brought to every seat. Hot chocolate is available but has to be asked for. This is followed by orders taken for breakfast. The selection includes a full hot breakfast (sausages, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomato, hash brown), bacon toasted sandwich, scrambled eggs and salmon, or a fruit plate. Now the full breakfast drips with fat, the sausages are mediocre and sometimes burnt, and the bacon also mediocre. The bacon toasted sandwich is literally bacon between slices of toast - a child could get it right, but not Virgin Trains. The scrambled eggs and salmon is usually ok. Ask for hot breakfast with scrambled eggs and you may get a yes, or a "we don't do that" (when you wonder if scrambled eggs are done with salmon...). However, wait there is more. Out comes the juice, not freshly squeezed or even pressed juice, but from concentrate and only orange and grapefruit. Tomato juice was dropped a month ago. You can get cereals too, but these aren't made obvious - just cornflakes, weetabix and crunchy nut, muesli and fruit n fibre were dropped a month ago as well.
Oh and there is toast and croissants, but the toast might be cold, of course. You'll only have marmalade as well.
Coffee and tea are brought around again, but you wont get juice again. That's it, the service is over for around 2 hours. However, it gets even better on the return train.