Its not often I’ll blog about a service unless I think its been something to note. So, the following is a positive post about a recent journey – I paid for it, I made it and this is what happened.
Thursday night MBW suggested I should go and surprise Uncle Drunk, a friend of mine and Uncle Drunk to Monkey, Nuzzle and Scratch. Uncle Drunk didn’t know about this, but Aunty Nearly-Sober, his suffering other half, did. She lives a few miles from him at the moment due to academic commitments, so she welcomed someone being in his flat to keep him company and drink his beer.
Uncle Drunk lives in Stourbridge and the quickest way to Stourbridge is to live in somewhere like Kidderminster or Brierley Hill. I do neither of those things. So, for me it was going to be a trip up the Chiltern Mainline.
In case this has never been evident, I quite like travelling on things like trains or buses or pretty much anything. But I like it even more if it can be special. So I checked out the times for a Chiltern Mainline Silver train. This train, rather than being a conventional unit train where the engine sits under the seats or the carriages also collect the power, has a locomotive one end and a driving wagon at the other. The result is that its quiet and smooth. But I didn’t know if they were accessible for my wheelchair, especially in their Business Zone (where I would like to work) and could see nothing on the website.
I did spot though that Chiltern are on twitter. Bearing in mind that my local Train Operating Company converse with me on Twitter regularly (and with alarming familiarity now), I decided to try it:
17 Feb 10:55 @chilternrailway is your Silver Train (Mainline) service wchair accessible in the business zone? I am thinking of getting the 16:50 ldn-bhm
I got a response a little later:
17 Feb 12:53 @daddydoink The bzone is accessible for most wheelchairs. Best to book assistance 24 hours in advance: chilternrailways.co.uk/help/disabled-…
How useful (and slightly exciting). I responded back to them:
17 Feb 13:01 @chilternrailway Thanks for this – I will bear it in mind 🙂 I have got an urgent requirement to travel today.
I got this back fairly quickly:
17 Feb 13:28@daddydoink Not to worry – go to the customer info desk on arrival at Marylebone and we’ll sort out. E
I found this quite reassuring – they aren’t going to be put out that I want to travel today. In fact, I could possibly say that they want me to “go for it.”
So, Friday afternoon, I was released from my desk early to go and work on the train – thanks to my Manager – and got on a train from Chelmsford to head for the big city lights. Now, I know that I can get on a train locally and scoot about – the staff are always brilliant and I know their twitter account is pretty good – I always feel confident, a welcome customer – to beat Greater Anglia (formerly National Express East Anglia) for being helpful when it comes to accessibility is not easy these days – the company has come along in leaps and bounds to show how they want to help disabled people travel and feel safe and welcome to do so.
But this is going to be different – I’m going to be using a company I haven’t travelled with in 4 years, on a train I’ve not yet experienced, with a twitter account I don’t even follow (!) and I don’t know what this whole thing has in store for me. If you’re not me, you can probably get very nervous at this point and start hunting for the what ifs – what if they forget me, what if they won’t help me, what if I can’t get my wheelchair on board, what if the guard falls off the train as we’re going through High Wycombe and the driver doesn’t realise and he just keeps going until suddenly we’re in Banbury and then we have to reverse to pick up the guard… it could happen, ok?!
I’m not a nervous person by default though, when it comes to travel – I’m very happy to get on with it. I arrived into London, got across the city and arrived with 10 minutes to spare for the 16:46. The staff were very friendly and helpful, assisting me on board quickly and putting the phone call through to Moor Street on my behalf. As we got going, I remembered “E” and got out my TwitterPhone:
17 Feb 17:15 @chilternrailway they did. Thanks and I’m on the train now 🙂
I got on with my work now, sipping coffee (which was actually fairly decent and served as a pot) and literally eating up the miles, grinning from ear to ear as I could hear the Driver in the Driving Van Trailer that lead the train honking the horn – it sounded good and impressive as we whizzed along the track, using a cross over to over take another train and just hammering along with the feeling that you were actually getting somewhere.
The TwitterPhone beeped – well, in truth, an email flagged up. A message from Chiltern again:
17 Feb 17:19 @daddydoink How’s the journey? E
A genuinely good touch – a bit of customer communication. However, I’m superstitious when it comes to train travel.
17 Feb 17:44 @chilternrailway very good so far. I don’t want to jinx it though!
And their response?
17 Feb 17:45 @daddydoink Is it your first time travelling with us? Hope we’ll see you again soon. (don’t want to jinx it though) E
So – my experience? I was impressed that their coach had two wheelchair spaces – one next to (yes, next to) another seat, to sit side by side a colleague. Another sitting opposite another seat at a table. I wasn’t sure about the plug being so far under the table its hard to access thought.
I enjoyed my first Chiltern experience in about 4 years – I wish that MBW had been there with me as she enjoys a good train journey too. I made my return back the next day on one of their diesel trains (a class 168/2 for the geeks out there), which was smooth albeit slower. The staff onboard were polite, helpful, friendly and I was met promptly at Marylebone. I enjoyed every moment of my travels this weekend – I didn’t feel like someone who had to comply with their rules to book or travel beside a door with a toilet beside me most of the time. I didn’t feel like I was an inconvenience to put on to a train. If I’m honest, this is what I experience with my home Train Operating Company, Greater Anglia. I normally experience it in other areas but not always. Its good to know that there is another Train Operating Company out there who can get it right, too, because this weekend, I felt like a customer.
Will I be back? Its a strong possibility.