On Saturday evening the last GNER train departed from London Kings Cross on its journey to Newcastle. They had to give up the East Coast franchise after their parent company ran out of cash to pay the government.
Reading about the company’s history on Wikipedia, I find it difficult to believe that it had only been around since 1996 — a strictly post-privatisation company. It had such a grand image that seemed steeped in history.
The GNER name was in fact a clever nod to three previous companies that used to operate on the East Coast — LNER, GNR and GER. It used a very old-fashioned looking coat of arms. It continued to use the ‘Flying Scotsman’ name, and even prided itself on running along “The Route of the Flying Scotsman”. All of these elements conspired to make me think that a company that was little more than a decade old was an important tie to our past.
Not so. But nevertheless I will be sad to see the name go. Rob Fenwick will have fond memories. But, despite their romantic image, I found GNER to be pretty shoddy as a train company in my experience.
I have not used them often — only for journeys between Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh. There are three choices here: First ScotRail, Virgin (now CrossCountry) and GNER. GNERs always made me the most nervous.
GNER trains were often chronically late. If I had to arrive at my destination for a certain time, I wouldn’t rely on GNER to get me there. Sure, they were susceptible to this because they made long distance journeys. But so did Virgin, and I found them much more punctual.
The trains themselves (Mark 3 coaches, in case you were wondering) were older than any others I have come across and were especially prone to breaking down. The slam-shut doors, whereby you had to lean out of the window for the privilege of getting the hell out, were like something from a pre-Health and Safety, pre-Disability Discrimination Act age — mostly because they were.
The worst delay I have ever been in was with GNER. The train broke down just past Haymarket and we had to wait for ages to get permission to go back to Edinburgh Waverley! And it was already very late. I felt sorry for all of the passengers who had to travel a longer distance on it. I just jumped off and ran for a more trustworthy First ScotRail train — as did quite a few other people.
Taking GNER’s place is National Express East Coast — or (if you like your four letter initialisms) NXEC. Of course, they will be using the same piss-poor rolling stock, so I won’t be holding my breath for an improvement on that front.
I do like that East Coast logo though. I saw a glimpse of it somewhere last week on my way back from Edinburgh (can’t remember where though) and didn’t know what it was. Its silvery glint caught my eye. I didn’t have enough time to look properly, but I liked what I saw of it.
Virgin Trains also recently lost its franchise — to Arriva-run CrossCountry. I’ll reserve judgement on CrossCountry as I haven’t used them yet. But I have to say that, unlike GNER, I always found Virgin’s service to be top notch, despite its image.
The trains themselves (Class 220 Voyagers in my neck of the woods) were excellent — comfortable and fast. But most importantly I could rely on them to get me to my destination on time.
There is a Virgin / CrossCountry train that departs Kirkcaldy at 1012 every day. This is a perfect train for me as it gets me into Edinburgh for my 1110 lectures, of which I have had many. It is the first train I can use my railcard on as well.
The Virgin one is cheaper and faster — but riskier. If it is late, I will be late. If it is on time I will be just a little bit late. But I have come to trust it. The train is very seldom late, and if it is then it is only fifteen minutes or so, rather than the hour or so you might expect a GNER train to be late. I’m quite sure this service will continue, as I have barely noticed the change of franchise.