Virgin trains – a bit crap

For anyone of a rightward leaning perspective who believes with unwavering conviction that the private sector is always better than the public, responds to customer demands and offers better quality service, a quick call to Virgin Trains will dispel all these myths.

Here’s the scenario. I want to book a train for Mrs Penguin to go to London for the weekend. This little adventure took place on Wednesday. I wanted to send her off on Thursday and to come back on Sunday so that she could have a well earned break away for a few days, see some old friends and have a bit of fun without worrying about such things as nappies and feeds and all the other mundane daily activities that revolve around looking after Little Penguin.

Not hard one would think to book a train ticket for the following day. I started off on their website that, erm, didn’t work, it was down. OK, it happens to us all from time to time so off to the telephone booking service. The premise is simple, book ticket with my card for Mrs Penguin to pick up tickets at the station the following day.

On to the phoneline, which rather wonderfully starts with an automated service. I personally don’t mind automated services that much, the ones that give you options to press buttons one, two or three but I have an absolute hatred of those voice operated ones because, they are simply crap. After not being understood for a few minutes I get passed to a human being. Sadly this human being seems to have even less a command of the English language than the automated service and insists on repeating back to me exactly what I’ve said and confirming every aspect of the booking three times before we proceed to the next part.

Getting through this was a bit of a job in itself but we get to the last part about paying by card. Is it me taking the journey? No, I’m booking it for someone else, I want them to pick the tickets up at the machine in the train station. Sadly though this isn’t possible, it’s my card and you need the exact card the tickets were booked on to retrieve the tickets on top of the code number they give you. Now strangely enough I couldn’t do without my card for four days as it might come in handy for such things as getting money from a cashpoint so this wasn’t an option. The only other option would be to have the tickets sent but even the special delivery option they have costs

5 thoughts on “Virgin trains – a bit crap

  1. I’m afraid the Virgin online booking service is designed with long term booking in mind. If you know exactly when you want to travel up to two or three months in advance it’s a fantastic little service and very good for people on modest budgets.

    However, anything less than a week in advance, my experience is exactly what you’ve gone through Gareth, and it honestly is better to go the travel office at the station and get the tickets over the counter, although this is quite an expensive option sadly!

    I made two train journeys last week, one to London and one to Liverpool. For London I booked two single journeys 8 weeks ago (the cheapest way to book very often) at

  2. Dave, I’m not particularly concerned with regards to the price. The issue in question is the quality of the service. A website that is poorly designed, falls over or simply doesn’t work and customer service staff who are at best highly annoying to deal with. As regards long term advance booking there isn’t any real cost savings as you’ll pick up the same deals at the counter in the train station in Wolverhampton as what’s available online. If you think it’s a good service Dave, you’ve obviously through experience become acustomed to poor quality. I personally don’t expect that, it’s not the kind of service I’d provide to my customers so I equally expect such high quality service from others.

  3. I agree it’s time to run the railways again as a national service, run by one company for the benefit of the people. The pricing of public transport in general in the UK is far more costly compared to our neighbours on the continent, and I think standards of personal service are much worse.

    I used to wonder how many countries abroad offered a higher standard yet still made a healthy profit, until I read that in France for instance the privately owned train operator cannot legally make a profit until minimum standards for the passengers can be met in full. Also in Switzerland the trains are run by one company and buses the other.

    A much better system surely!

  4. Almost a year later and your post is still relevant -I came across it while looking for a solution to the very same problem.


  5. Thankfully I haven’t needed to book a ticket since. I’ve opted for the decidedly more high tech method of getting the bus to the railway station and paying in cash.

    Does the trick with repeatedly keep pressing ’9′ still work then?

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