It is rare that I get the opportunity to travel First Class these days on our railway system, but that opportunity existed earlier this week with journeys on both East Coast and West Coast.
As a former Peterborough-London commuter I was well aware of the limited First Class offer available from East Coast - the journey is under 70 minutes and so despite the three-figure cost of a return ticket the full catering service is not available. Besides tea/coffee and juice, or a pot of yoghurt als on offer was a pecan danish. Now this was a scaled down danish, two bites and it was gone, but what struck me was that there was no quality in the way it was served. It was put onto a plastic plate and alongside it I was handed a packet containing a serviette and a plastic knife and fork. Now this hardly speaks quality as would be expected for a First Class offer.
The return journey was the all day offer and I have to say the sandwiches, cake and fruit along with alcoholic drinks hits the mark.
But is the Government-run East Coast rail franchise, now in its dying months and due to be handed over to Stagecoach/Virgin in March next year looking at saving even more money on catering. From a comment in its latest pocket timetable it seems so. First Class customers making a four-hour plus journey from London to Edinburgh, or return, are requested to only partake of the main food offer once during the journey. They should not have a breakfast on leaving London and another food offering later in the journey other than snacks. This is a real contrast to Virgin's West Coast operation where passengers making a London-Glasgow journey are offered breakfast on leaving London and a further offering after Preston.
My second journey leg was from London Euston to Crewe and I was looking forward to a full cooked breakfast and Virgin didn't dissapoint. There is something about a cooked breakfast on a train journey that evokes memories of the golden age of travel and in my opinon Virgin maintains the tradition.
Yes, the food offering is muchg reduced from those golden days, but tastes and requirements have changed. Few commuters want a large breakfast offering and Virgin's slimmed down offering adequately foots the bill and was accompanied by toast and copious amounts of coffee.
The return journey from Crewe to London was not quite as slick and I would have preferred a hot drink on boarding, but had to wait for almost 45 minutes, It was served as the train headed through Nuneaton.
It will be interesting to see what changes Stagecoach/Virgin are planning for East Coast when it takes over operation of the King's Cross route in March next year.
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.