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