It's official folks - I'm on the other train

16 June 2009

It was entirely my fault. I'd booked the train tickets so long ago that I'd forgotten they'd been posted to me. So last night when I checked my travel times online and noticed a FastTicket reference, I assumed I was collecting my tickets at the station. I quickly discovered this morning that National Express supply a FastTicket reference whether you need one or not. Brilliant.

It's National Express policy never to re-print a ticket once it's issued, so as I watched my train pull out of Newcastle and depart for London, I cursed National Express for been so mindlessly inflexible in its attitude towards customers. I wasn't the only one. The gentleman next to me had lost one part of his three-part ticket moments after printing them out. He had his printed confirmation with him, the credit card he booked it with, ID and - more importantly - the other two parts of the ticket, but was still forced to fork out £104 for a single ticket to replace it.

Fortunately BW's Andy is a lad with more common sense than I, and he directed me to Grand Central Trains which runs daily services between Sunderland and Kings Cross. Sunderland. Meh. The reason I probably hadn't tried their trains until today. I also had the impression they were slow, expensive and grotty. I couldn't be more wrong. So my tip of the day; if you're a regular passenger between the North East and London, try out Grand Central Trains.

They're not particularly speedy - they make several stops in-between Sunderland and York, but then it's non-stop to London - so the travel times are comparable to the slower services on National Express. The carriages are a little dated, but every seat is at a table with extra legroom. There's free wifi, more reliable than National Express because the service doesn't cram people in, plus free tea and coffee for all passengers. And if you can't find a seat, you'll get a 50% refund there and then.

Best of all is the price; Grand Central charge the same on the train as they do online - the price doesn't immediately treble because you boarded the train without a ticket. And the price for the lunchtime service is nearly a third of what National Express charge; a single from Sunderland to Kings Cross cost me just £36. Wowsers.

The only downside is that you may have to catch the train from the bunker that is Sunderland station (unless you live in York, of course), which looks like it's been locked in a portaloo and kicked down a hill, or as Andy put it, "it belongs in an East German transport museum". Still, it's a small price to pay; unless they offer some stunningly low deals, National Express has lost me as a customer from today.

TOPICS:   Travel

29 comments

  • The B.
    I assumed "I'm on the other train" was some kind of euphamism I'd never heard of before possbily pertaining to homosexuality, apparently I was wrong.... or was I?
  • andy y.
    If they have wi-fi that's only appeared in the last few weeks? Certainly there is no free T&C in 2nd class.It's great train but runs only 2-3 times a day and your ticket is not valid on Nexpress.I agree however NExp are c*nts and GrandCent deserves a big up.
  • taffney
    I have used Grand Central many times (Hartlepool - Kings Cross) Not part of ATOC which can be an issue should they cancel a train, you won't be allowed on National Express. wifi is excellent, i may have watched a match once or twice off a streaming website. But only possible when there are not too many using it. It is hosted in Scandinavia so some sites wont work properly, if they require you to be UK based. Wifi has been on there trains for months cant remember when but more than 2 weeks. Apart from the ATOC thing, Grand Central is a damn good thing for the North East.
  • deborah
    I travelled in standard class yesterday, having cleverly missed my train from king's cross to london, and was provided with free tea or coffee, free wireless, excellent service and a cheap price- lifesaver:) I shall definitely be using them again.
  • Mike S.
    Yesterday my brother went down to London for an interview with national express. He booked an advance ticket (for about £45). The ticket was from Newcastle but he stayed with me in Durham so I could give him a lift to the station. Because he boarded at Durham his ticket was deemed invalid. He had to buy a single (£90) even though he had already paid for (and reserved) a seat on that train. Just to clarify: > He bought a ticket from NCL to London > Got on that train one stop closer to london from NCL > Sat in the seat he paid for > Had to pay a hefty fine for less service Stupid behaviour on their part. I've told many people, as has he, and as have my parents. Sadly their effective monopoly means even with bad publicity people have no choice but to use them.
  • Paul Nikkel EDITOR
    I think they enforce that to prevent people from doing tricks like split ticketing. Which is crazy of course...
  • David P.
    I would sat in my reserved seat and pretended I was asleep, with my tickets on the table. Or perhaps make out I was in toilets when they checked the tickets. Whenever I go to Heathrow Airport, I book National Express super saver tickets (£1, otherwise they're £30 +) and just hop off at Heathrow. Ain't nothing they can do. Obviously they won't help you unload your suitcase but that's a small price to pay for the amount you'll save!
  • Pure-Klenz
    Sunderland rules!
  • Anthony
    I booked tickets from Newcastle to London for a Charity Event i had been asked to do. Although i paid £145 for the tickets to london (out of my own pocket) the tickets had been booked from Newcastle Central as i work on the quayside. I usually get the train to work from durham so when there i asked if i could get on at durham rather than newcastle. I was told this was fine as it was a stop closer to london (common sense).. - The morning of arrival, i gathered my tickets and headed for durham train station (near my home). got to the platform, handed my tickets over and guess what... Sorry "You cannot get on this train, your ticket is INVALID Now.. *as he writes all over my ticket in black perm marker".. I decided i would not be beat by this 150% Jobsworth.. 1 ticket to darlington please. Paid £5 for this ticket to darlington. got on the platform, Frantically wetting & rubbing my finger over the tickets to remove the ink. Got to my seat in first class. inspector came around. showed him my "partially marked tickets" no problem. and there it was. i got to london and back without pissing another £140 up the spout. All i can say. is FCUK National Express
  • Jason
    I use Grand Central twice a week - King's Cross to Eaglescliffe and return. Initially I wasn't chuffed about them at all and once I was left abandoned at Kings Cross one Saturday morning when the 0757 was cancelled because of the well documented power car failure. The team of girls were busy trying to give everyone new tickets to use on NXEC, but because I was a prospective walk on passenger they directed me to the ticket office. When I got there I was told they didn't issue tickets for GC and that I would have to go and find their staff. Guess what? The 'cheeky girls' had disappeared and were nowhere to be seen so I was left without a train to get home and no one available to help me!! Have also heard the same train team slagging off customers in earshot of passengers whilst travelling to Kings Cross some weeks back!! Putting that behind me, the service I've experienced since seems to have got better, but they still have a long way to go before they reach a level where I would describe them as a professional train operator. As much as I love the Paxman Valenta engined HST's, they have had their day and high spec rolling stock needs to be acquired with a restaurant car serving meals instead of those microwaved bacon butties they knock up at the buffet. On another point, it's a shame GC couldn't have planned their trains to call at Middlesbrough instead of the complete toilet that is Eaglescliffe Station. Granted, calling at Middlesbrough involves a reversal of the train, but using Eaglescliffe as a mere parkway station for the 'Boro' is not exactly tapping into the large Teesside market in the best way is it?
  • Grand h.
    [...] Central blog entry Spotted this linked from the, er, GC website: http://www.bitterwallet.com/its-offi...er-train/13530 Personally, I never had issues with GNER grippers (in contrast to many uk.railway GNER-hating [...]
  • Rich
    I've had similar experiences with Grand Central. I like the fact I don't have to trek all the way through to Newcastle to catch a train and if I'm traveling at short notice it is cheaper than NXEC. It is nice to have more legroom and the games boards on the tables are a funky touch. I do agree though that their customer service is shocking. I was nearly left when an early train to London was delayed. I saw the crew outside the station when I go there but as departure time got closer they were nowhere to be seen and neither was the train. The station staff didn't know anything and it was only through the intervention of a of duty member of train crew that we found them. Myself and another chap had appointments that we were going to miss unless they could a) get here quick or b) put us on the NXEC. The crew turned up but late enough to make sure we missed our connection. The tickets they gave us were almost refused on NXEC (savers or something) but the guard couldn't be arsed and let us stay. Other than that a good experience. ...and yes I agree Sunderland station needs filling up with concentrate and a real station built in its place
  • Exactly
    This blog page is on the GC homepage as at 18 June 09. Since Grandcentral are obviously BW readers, ... it's time you brought back those sneaky discount tickets you had a few months back. NXEC are kicking your 16.50 ass with the 16.30 and 17.00 out of KingsX. Their online tickets are only £32.95 KC to York. vs your(newly expensive) £58
  • Jason
    I think Grand Central are leaving themselves a bit wide open here with this link on their website, either transparency on their part or naivity maybe? Another suggestion - GC stock some ales in their buffet to complement those 'interesting' bacon stotties, but why don't they sell the absolutely magnificent Double Maxim which is brewed near Sunderland still? This will make you laugh, on returning home a couple of weeks ago my GC service was approaching York. When we pulled in to the platform, the quite 'camp' conductor advised us over the intercom, very kindly I thought, of places where we could smoke whilst the train had it's usual 10-12 minute stop. What a result!! Up the steps, turn left and down the steps leading to the National Railway Museum.
  • Richard W.
    Does anyone know why most of all GC trains are cancelled sat and sun? I am book on sat train to Sunderland is now not running and its midnight and im stressed sorting out new times. Can I claim any comp from GC for this?
  • Jason
    I'm afraid, as they are not a franchised rail operator, that will not give compensation but if you ring them they might give you your money back. I go on the 0757 service KX-Sunderland train every Saturday but today I will have to get the 1127 which terminates at York with no replacement bus service northbound!! Will have to wangle a ticket out of them for the Transpennine train to Thornaby.
  • John
    I use NXEC every week - no choice, I work in London, but live in the North East (my choice). Unlike MPs I can't claim the cost of travel back, so I have to grab the tickets as soon as they're released - and if you were quick (very, very quick), you could grab cheap tickets.... until about 4 weeks ago. National Express have *almost tripled* the cost of tickets since May - it's not a mistake, believe you me, we watch these prices closely in order to keep costs down. We first thought it was profiteering for the school Summer holidays, but nope, NXEC have kept their prices up in September as well. So we *do* need alternative operators, so come on Grand Central grab the opportunity.
  • Richard
    I suffered at the hands of a Grand Central cancellation yesterday, and as I had bought GC only tickets I was unable to travel on any other operator's services without needing a new ticket. So I now have a redundant York - Sunderland return. I note the outbound ticket states it is valid for a month, so I may be able to re-use it, although not clear on this. Grand Central remind me of Amtrak in America, when they work it's great, when they don't it's more frustrating than a spoon with a hole in it.
  • Richard W.
    I have been told by GC Staff at Sunderland yesterday to send in Tickets to claim a Refund into them as i had to buy new tickets from a EX GC staff member who now works as a guard for TPE,she must have have loved doing that to me!!!!!
  • Grand h.
    [...] EE507 <ee...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote: > Spotted this linked from the, er, GC website: > > http://www.bitterwallet.com/its-offi...e-other-train/... > > Personally, I never had issues with GNER grippers (in contrast to many > uk.railway [...]
  • JohnS
    You do have to wonder if GC will make it - I've got to get to York today instead of Northallerton for my return trip to London and the train I wanted isn't running anyway. But I've really benefited from GC on my regular Mbro trips to visit family, and I'd like to say why. First, the fares. I often can't book, and in any case the number of cheap tickets from NEX has gone right down. The 8.04 is a godsend, at that price especially, and the 16.50, though more expensive, is also useful - especially since I turned 60 and can now get a cheap crumblie ticket on GC's peak services. Excellent. Second, being able to buy on the train at the same price makes life so much easier. Third, there's so much room and the seats are comfortable and all by a window. NEX, FGW, Virgin and Crosscountry are all cramped with seats contoured for some other species, and you can end up with no window at all. Fourth, I really dislike the officiousness, bordering on bullying, of some staff of those companies, and the growing attempts to control passengers rather than provide a service. The proposals to put barriers at York, for example, may have a rationale in revenue loss, but it's just another way of controlling us. In my view if the companies want to make sure we all have tickets, they should put more staff on trains and do the checks. The big franchises should not have control of our stations - for example, they clearly try not to sell the much cheaper GC tickets at Kings Cross. On the other hand GC suffers from unreliability, a poor quality buffet, no at seat service, no restaurant etc. etc. But I can put up with that for all the reasons above. End of rant!!
  • Ian C.
    What I cannot understand is why GC is prepared to simply cancel and curtail trains when in the long-term this is injurious to the company by damaging confidence and traffic growth? On the Durham Coast we are talking about getting 33% of the service and massive dislocation of journeys. When the service collapsed in Spring 2008 due to the unreliability of power cars, a charter train set was put on. This service was infinitely preferable to cancellations and performed quite well on the East Coast Main Line even with the 100mph cap on speed. By Summer 2008 it had passed into history. It has not been seen since, despite there being occasional cancellations. Here are some suggestions on how the gaps can be plugged: (i) The initial Class 180 unit (180105) that has run on driver familiarisation is temporarily put into service without being modified to GC standards, as either 2nd train or as York Shuttle train. (ii) Running with a single HST power car at 100mph only with a driving coach at the other end (DVT or DBSO), as either 2nd train or as York Shuttle train. (iii) Reintroduce a 100mph second train preferably with Class 67 locomotive haulage. (iv) Consider introducing a barrier vehicle and driving coach to enable a class 67 loco to run with HST trailers and also upgraded running at 110 or 125mph. (v) Hire a Diesel Multiple Unit, even a lowly 'Pacer' train, to provide York shuttle journeys from the Durham Coast. These problems are not going to go away, given the record of the Paxman-engined HST, the Class 180 'Adelante' unit, and with the Bradford service due to start in December. Some kind of fallback provision needs to be made.
  • will i.
    Errm i've stumbled on here from the gc homepage and find that this review proclaims their trains to be slow and old fashioned...great PR work chaps!
  • Larry H.
    Odd that GC's own home page links to a website full of Nat Ex slander and GC Blunders....
  • Exactly
    OMG there are discount fares. 40.00 inc free coffee vs 37.40. GC really are BW readers. Fair play. ..... OK lets try this.... topless ticket inspectors. Only the lovely ladies ... obviously.
  • National B.
    [...] We’ve talked at lengths about the dreadful company-centric policies of their customer care, despite it being customers that determine the expectations of a service. Their customer service policies were archaic, unwelcoming and positively hostile towards the people paying for them. Why couldn’t I have a replacement ticket if I lost mine? Why couldn’t I buy a cut-price ticket on the day of travel, even the train was empty? Why did National Express offer paper vouchers as compensation for a booking made online, forcing the customer to book their next journey at a station without the online discount they benefited from in the first place? Everything about the business was geared towards maximising their own profits rather than delivering the best possible service for the customer. [...]
  • UMAGA
    Grand Central - THE retirement home of choice for all ex GNER/Nat Ex employees...
  • Koozar
    The good news is that Grand Central have now doubled their prices from £36 to £64, and the double prices are even worse! I am so angry it's not even funny!
  • Koozar
    return prices are even worse i meant*

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