On Saturday I had the pleasure of visiting Newcastle, one of my favourite cities in the UK. Not so pleasurable was my decision to use Cross Country Trains as my mode of getting there.
Edinburgh and Newcastle are just ninety minutes apart by train. At least they used to be when Great North Eastern Railways (GNER) ran the franchise. Going by my experience on Saturday, it now takes considerably longer with Cross Country Trains.
I was booked on the 11.05 train from Edinburgh's Waverley Station. I met my mate and fellow part-time follower of Newcastle United FC, Graeme, at 10.30. We were greeted by the less than welcoming message on the departures board that our train would not now leave until 11.23. We headed for the pub for a swift half, purely for medicinal purposes (to keep out the cold, of course) We then headed for platform twenty where the departure time still stated 11.23. At 11.31 the train trundled in. As always seems to be the case when travelling by rail, someone was sitting in our reserved seats and seemed none too pleased when asked to move. When the train eventually departed five minutes later there was an announcement from a weary sounding Cross Country Trains official that the train was running half an hour late as a result of a staff member turning up late on its departure from Aberdeen earlier that morning. Well, that's okay then.
A pleasant day was spent in the company of football loving Geordies and we witnessed Newcastle United hammer Barnsley to the tune of 6-1. St. James Park is a just a few minutes walk from Newcastle Central Station and we ambled back there after the game in plenty time to catch our train back to Edinburgh at 18.05. Can you guess what happened next, dear reader? Yep, our train was late. 75 minutes late.
We headed back into the centre of Newcastle to partake in alcoholic refreshment - again, for medicinal purposes to keep the cold weather at bay. With our train's departure time now 19.24 we headed for platform two for 19.15. Mild panic set in when the departure board stated our train had arrived - but the dozens of fellow passengers milling around the platform indicated otherwise. The notice then changed to 'expected 19.31'
By now our frustration had turned to anger - as it had done with most of the other passengers looking to head north. There was no tannoy announcement regarding our train's late arrival and no information from bemused looking Cross Country Train officials. As much as I love the city of Newcastle, the prospect of spending the entire evening at Central Station wasn't an appealing one.
Eventually the train arrived at 19.33 - nearly ninety minutes late. The train departed Newcastle at the time it should have been arriving in Edinburgh. The reason given for the delay was there had been a fatality at Grantham. Now incidents such as these and the consequent delays unfortunately do happen. But it would have been nice if Cross Country Trains had kept their beleaguered passengers informed - or even had the foresight to run an extra train from Newcastle to Edinburgh in order to keep their customers happy. Back in the old days when Britain's railways were nationalised this may well have happened but with today's privatised industry generation this was never a possibility.
So if you're intending to travel with the rather aptly named Cross Country Trains - although furious is a rather more accurate description than 'Cross' - expect your train to be running late. And don't expect to be kept informed...