June 16th, 2011
I had my first ride in a Virgin Pendolino recently, standard class (as we kept being told on the tannoy – there’s nothing like being repeatedly reminded you’re a pleb), forward facing and aisle, aircraft seating, quiet carriage. On the plus side the ride was comfortable, quiet and fast. On the minus side it was like sitting inside a small aircraft with 2+2 seating, with the luggage inside the cabin, and insufficient luggage racks at that, and in the wrong place.
The Virgin business model which appears to be to promote more affluent customers at the expense of cattle class was never more evident than on the Pendolino. The frequent P.A. invitation to “upgrade to First Class for £15″ which I didn’t mind, was accompanied by a form of words that emphasised the “complimentary drinks” in First Class and would have been acceptable had it not been for the repeated and entirely gratuitous use of the phrase “standard class”.
Now train travellers are not stupid, they know when they buy a ticket that is not First Class that they will get a seat on a train and hopefully reach their destination safely, and they are only too well aware that paying extra is likely to result in a more spacious seat in a more comfortable environment.
However, the Tannoy announcement repeatedly used the phrase “for those in Standard Class” as if we were third class cattle truck passengers from the days of the Rocket, in open trucks on wooden slatted benches. I found it patronising, unnecessary and insulting all in one.
If this is Virgin’s way of getting more business for the many First Class carriages then good luck to them, but it’s not one I’d recommend, and I strongly encourage them to think again. Frankly it stinks.
The truth is they’ve got too many First Class seats for the train. Of nine carriages, four are First Class and five Standard, with 145 and 294 seats respectively. They have gone for the First Class market but can’t fill them. I have no idea what the ratio is on other carriers but 1 in 3 seems high, especially at a time of austerity. The problem Virgin have is the make up of their trains and it would cost money to rejig the carriages. See seating plan here.
A stocky guy got on a Carlisle and had the inside seat next to me, he must have felt squashed because the seats are narrow, I did mark a copy of a newspaper with the width but this so far eludes me so I’m going to say 16″ to 17″ between the armrests which isn’t a lot. In order to feel comfortable, and not to make contact with my neighbour, I had to sit with my shoulder outside the line of the seat which meant I got clobbered from time to time by passing bags.
The luggage rack is too small and in the wrong place in the centre of the carriage. It ought to be near the doors so that people don’t have to cart their bags past other passengers. Owing to the compact interior (crash proofing?) the luggage rack space overhead is pretty mean too.
As a result there was a considerable amount of consternation at stations with the result that luggage blocked the aisle. This was not a local service. This was Glasgow-London where people are likely to be carrying luggage, not just a briefcase.
If you’re tall or stocky it’s not going to be fun. I’m sure it’s fine for slim people but the average girth is growing and it’s already on the cramped side. However in fairness to Virgin I will say that the seat pitch seemed ok, I’m tall and my knees were not scraping the seat back in front.
I read the blogs before writing this one chap says he’s 6’4″ and doesn’t find them claustrophobic. Well all I can say it you’re welcome to them, I’ll think twice next time.
I’m 6ft 4in and have never felt claustrophobic on any train whatsoever. I think Pendolinos are a fantastic ride in standard, and I’m trying First for the first ever time from Carlisle to Crewe in July, so am rather looking forward to that.
Think they’re great units though.
I’ve been reminded that I had a good run to Bristol and back recently with FGW and that train was wonderful. Comfortable seats, good view from the windows, spacious layout (OK I had one of the “priority” seats) but even so the seat pitch was OK elsewhere too.
What do I think about the Pendolino? I think it’s a quiet, comfortable ride that is like being in a short haul jet with 2+2 seating and the luggage in the aisles. However if I wanted that experience I’d fly, and without the luggage blocking the aisle. If I get on a train I want it to feel like a train, not Concorde.
So there you are. A range of views from which to choose. I’ll stick to the East Coast. You’ve got Durham, the coastal run near Berwick on Tweed and larger windows on that route, not to mention more space. Happy travelling.
UPDATE: Article read by http://www.priestmangoode.com/ today 4th April 2012, a company who design train interiors. Let’s hope it does some good.
UPDATE: 13/4/12 Somebody wants to know “Virgin trains overhead luggage dimensions” from a Google search. I can answer that in one word – tiny. There’s not much room for anything overhead in the Pendolino carriage.
UPDATE: This is Owen Hatherley in Building Design on the Pendolino and the malls that constute new stations:-
Yet, much as Virgin’s Pendolino trains try to replicate the cramped, gut-churning, view-free experience of budget flight on what would otherwise be perfectly enjoyable train journeys to Glasgow and Manchester, so new stations take the airport-mall as model.
15 November 2012 12:19PMWhat the DfT are suggesting is a class between First and Standard, like business or premium economy on planes. Not a lower class. Nothing will change apart from maybe a few larger seats at the front of standard. It isn’t needed on a train, but it should only be used on long distance trains, such as Virgin, as they have a ridiculous amount of First Class
[ . . . ] travelling in a Pendolino is like serving on a small submarine with bilge difficulties [ . . . ]