"We're not late, until we're 10 minutes late..."

All those, who have had the privilege of experiencing Virgin Trains at work will know what I am talking about. All you others: Take notice!

“The Virgin service to London Euston will be approximately 6 minutes late.” Six minutes is not too bad, you think. However, in six minutes time, there will be another announcement, saying that the train will be 10 minutes late. Which makes a total of 16 minutes. If you are going straight to London and stay the night, have nowhere in particular to go to and don’t mind a few minutes delay that’s fine. However, I can guarantee that half of your fellow travellers will miss their connections because of this.

The problem is: If you book a journey either online or at the ticket office, they will give you the most direct route most of the time. And they will reserve a seat, which is not good. Because most connection times (at least every time I travel) are less than 20 minutes – so if your first train is delayed, chances are you’ll be stuck in the middle of nowhere sooner or later. And your ticket might not be valid on the next available train. Even if it’s Virgin Trains operating the service and calling at the same stations, chances are your ticket will not be accepted. For example: Say your train to London via Preston is delayed, but the next train to Birmingham via Preston leaves before your delayed train is due, they’ll charge you for the ride, although you’re calling at the same stations.

My sister missed her flight because of Virgin Trains! The train she was supposed to get was 20 minutes late – but she only had a connection time of 10 minutes in Preston. So she got on the next best train, just to see the taillights of the train she should have been on in Preston. She than had to wait an hour for her train to Manchester Airport – which was also running late. She was 5 minutes late for check-in and wasn’t allowed through, although she explained that it was not her fault. “You should have calculated 2 hours at least for delays” she was told. She would have had 2 hours, if delays hadn’t put her back by 1 hour and 30 minutes! Left at Manchester Airport at night, she had to make her way back to Manchester Piccadilly to complain to Virgin Trains – whose members of staff had long gone home for the day when she got there. So she found a hotel and had to book a new flight – and anyone who ever had to book last minute knows that that isn’t cheap!

Two days later, I embarked on a train journey myself. The Virgin Train starting at Carlisle was 10 minutes late – How can a train that starts somewhere be late there already? Wouldn’t you make sure you leave on time? On the train, we were told that all our connection replacement buses would wait for us in Preston – well, they didn’t. They were just gone, because the staff at Preston had not been notified. Another bus was called in to take us to Warrington and we were actually making good time – until we broke down on the on-ramp to the M6 just south of Wigan. Needless to say I missed my connection bus to Chester and was running an hour late. At least on trains, they have bistros and most importantly toilets – features the replacement buses were missing. All of us were relieved when we got to Warrington, just to get to the toilets!

You complain about Deutsche Bahn? They’re really quite good compared to the public transport system in the UK! And yes, Deutsche Bahn trains (excluding ICE’s) are usually running late as well, but you can usually get your connections. And they know that they are running late and apologise for it! Virgin Trains, however, say that they are not running late, unless they are more than ten minutes late. So if you’re delayed by 12 minutes next time, remember: You’re actually just 2 minutes late – so stop moaning or else!

Wouldn’t that be great though? Getting to work 15 minutes late and apologising for being 5 minutes late? If only everything would work that way! “Cook for 18 minutes” – pop it in the oven for 8 minutes – and voilà!

Virgin Trains is easily the worst service when it comes to being on time. So, I guess I don’t have to rush to the station anymore… I’ll have plenty of time before my train gets there. And one thing I’ve learned: Buy Off-peak Anytime Tickets, don’t reserve a seat. If you miss your connection, you can then just hop on another without running the risk of being charged again!

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