Review of "Wessex Trains"
This is my first review on a non-food item, about Wessex Trains, formerly known as Wales and West- they're quite a small, local company mainly serving the south west of England.
They operate services from Cheltenham, Gloucester, Worcester and Great Malvern to Bristol Temple Meads, Cardiff to Bristol and Portsmouth, Bristol to Weymouth, Bristol to Avonmouth and Severn Beach, Bristol to Plymouth and Penzance and Swindon to Cheltenham and Gloucester, also services around Brighton, the south, Devon and Cornwall and many other local services.
The company also calls at many small inner city and village stations which the larger operators do not call at.
***** The trains *****
Wessex' trains are often small, often consisting of just two carriages per service. For more busy routes, such as their "Alphaline" services from Bristol Temple Meads to Portsmouth Harbour, up to four carriages are sometimes used. (The Alphaline trains have recently been modernised - they're very nice!) But for services that terminate at small stations like Castle Cary and Frome, one carriage trains can be seen. It's quite unusual to see a little one carriage train chugging along aside one of First Great Western's 6 carriage + trains!
The exterior of some of the older trains do look a little dated. As far as I know, all current trains are flat at the front, enabling easy connection to other carriages but looking a little old. The more modern trains have digitised train destination displays at the front, and the older ones have those bus-style displays (where the driver turns the handle to rotate a display thing which shows the right station - if you know what I mean!)
The modern trains all have nice carpeted floors and plushy seats. There is normally just enough legroom for me on the modern trains. They have a blue style inside, with some single seats, some seats with tables, and some seats facing each other. The trains are well lit, with good lighting and large, clean windows. They also have air conditioning - perfect for those travelling days in the summer, and can travel up to 90m.p.h . The interior doors of the modern trains are push button operated, and open and close pretty slowly (not fast like other trains I know of!)
I have only used the loo in an older train once, and I was pretty impressed! It was in one of Wessex’ one carriage trains. Although small, it was very clean, well lit and had plenty of soap and tissue. It had an older style latch, not one of those push button automatic ones, which was good - I think I trust the manual ones better!
There are also posters dotted around the train. Some of these are the common "Buy your ticket at a station, not the train!" ones, and others have information about special attractions acessible by rail, or rail routes.
***** The Staff *****
Wessex Trains staff are seemingly always friendly and helpful. I don't think I've ever seen a grumpy member of staff on the trains or at the Wessex trains owned stations. On some of the trains I get in the daytime which are close to empty, I often have a small chat with some of the ticket conductors that come round. The same applies for the staff at ticket offices and around stations. They really make you feel welcome and valued, which is one of the most important things.
As I've mentioned Wessex Trains run plenty of little stations, as well as a few of the larger ones. The little stations are generally good - a few small shelters, one or two outside seats, a tiny ticket office (these often close after 10:30am) and Information points where you can press a button and hear a lady tell you about the next trains. At larger stations there are plenty of seats, buffet cafés (These are normally very good), toilets, some waiting rooms, big ticket offices, very useful information screens and clear announcements (Are a bit repetitive though..."The next train to arrive on platform 2 will be the...", but I'm glad they're there!) and also bus connection routes and car parks in most stations. There's also wheelchair access to all big and most small Wessex stations. The stations are clean and the staff are always friendly and willing to lend a hand if you need one.
***** Punctuality, delays, reliability and that stuff *****
I'm pretty sure Wessex trains aren't without their fair share of regular disgruntled passengers. One of their services - which even I say needs a big improvement - is its Cardiff Central to Portsmouth Harbour service and vice versa. I think the problem is there has been a steady increase in passengers using this service throughout the months, as this service stops at big stations such as Bristol Temple Meads, Bath Spa, Sailsbury, Southampton Central and more. More often than not the train just has two carriages which really isn't enough, as people often end up literally crammed into the train at peak times (the old term sardines in a can springs to mind!) However, there has started to be an improvement. I know in more cases now, Wessex have started sticking two more old carriages on the end of the train which has been a big relief for commuters like us.
I was going to put up a typical journey, but the trains arrive on time so frequently I wouldn't really need to. Lately there has been a problem with a defective train in front of ours, but ours managed to go onto the other side of the track and bypass it.***** Ticketing *****
Wessex trains do some special deals for tickets. You can buy "Cheap day returns" which are the cheapest tickets I've seen. You can also buy "Group saver" tickets - if you travel in a group of 4 people you go half price!
I think there is First Class on one or two trains - basically nicer seats with lights, lots of space and big windows - but on most trains it's just standard all the way through. That's fine with me though - one thing I really dislike on the intercity trains is crowds in the standard carriages and lots of empty seats in the first class ones! There's no sign of that here.
There are plenty of other discounts on off-peak fares, so be sure to go to their website or pick up leaflets at stations to find out more.
**** Catering ****
As I've said there are catering facilities at the larger stations. On trains, the catering facilities are rather few. There are no buffet services on any trains as far as I know, but there are trolley services on some of the more popular trains - these serve a small selection of hot and cold drinks, snacks and other light refreshments. Often they are at-seat as they trundle along the aisle, but on busier journeys you have to walk a little way to find them Prices are good - a hot choc costed me around £1, which is good considering it's on a train service.
Wessex Trains are a good, local service that have expanded from the days when they were known as Wales and West. Because the trains don't travel enourmous distances (I think their biggest is probably Gloucester to Penzance), they don't suffer many of the big network problems around the National Rail network - although they do sometimes get caught up in delays, track problems etc and their trains break down every now and then.
Although they have a few small problems, I think Wessex Trains deserves 5 stars for their overall effort and increasing performance. I know they are now running new services and lines for increasing passenger demand. Try travelling one day - you could be pleasantly surprised!
Hats off to Wessex trains (and anyone else who's read this the whole way through!)
Thanks for reading!
Product Information : Wessex Trains
Manufacturer's product description
Listed on Ciao since: 19/05/2004