The best of broadband - trains
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Date: 29 April, 2005

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' Broadband internet merely made things worse as I now enjoy downloading journey videos of the Orient Express'

Ray Hatley takes a trip both vitual and real around the railway networks.

People who don’t travel by train are missing a unique experience. No, I’m not talking about the stewed tea and curly sandwiches much loved by the buffet eaters of old. Nor am I referring to the way trains run on time – in my experience they generally don’t.

No – I mean the view. Just jump on a train from London to South Wales and get blown away by the amazing scenery. Having purchased a ticket to ride you get a fabulous free show that lasts for hours. Then when you cross the river into Newport, just jump on an Arriva Train to Manchester Piccadilly and delight in the Welsh Valleys and Shropshire hills.

Onward and upwards chaps – right to the far north of Scotland, past mountain streams and raging torrents and you don’t even need wellies. Trains have something for everyone and it has to be said the sandwiches are superb these days. Virgin trains even do a little pack that has a wholemeal roll, a packet of apple pieces and a savoury snack. Delicious and healthy too.

So what has all this got to do with websites and broadband eh? Well don’t think the railway companies have been idle. Take a look at www.virgintrains.co.uk to get some idea what I mean. Ignoring gratuitous pictures of Richard Branson, you get the feeling that you might be missing something if you don’t dig deeper.

Virgin operate a vast rail network that spans the country from Aberdeen in the north to Brighton and Penzance in the south. A potentially massive logistics nightmare but one that , so far, has served me exceedingly well.

I traveled from Brighton to Birmingham on a Virgin train recently and was astounded by the level of service from the train manager and her shop staff. Yes, they even have shops on trains nowadays. The train manager spoke with a delightful gentle Scottish lilt and worked so hard to make my journey a pleasure that I almost felt guilty. Nice one Virgin!

For a truly rural experience you have to give the award to Arriva Trains. Just look at www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk and see what you have been missing. Delightful little two carriage trains hurtle from North Wales to South Wales and all the places in between. They are possibly the cleanest trains I have ever experienced and the staff are a delight.

Central trains www.centraltrains.co.uk cover all those pretty Midland bits of the UK and join up most of the other rail services. They even cover as far east as Norwich, south down to Stanstead and west to Liverpool, Shrewsbury, Hereford, Cardiff and Newport. Great trains and great service although they do seem to have a bit of a problem between Ludlow and Birmingham.

From Manchester to the rest of the frozen north (Southerners have absolutely no idea how cold Wilmslow station can get in the middle of winter) is the province of Northern Rail. See www.northernrail.org for more information. The trouble is that Northern rail are so new it is hard to made constructive comment – but my experience so far is definitely positive.

A trip to the Scottish highlands on a First Scotrail train could be a pleasure but as they are another company which has only recently been appointed I am sorry to say I haven’t been able to try them out yet. Their web site at www.firstgroup.com/scotrail/ offers short breaks for less than £100 so I might be tempted to take a trip to the far north very soon.

If you care to hop over into Northern Ireland then Northern Ireland Railways will take responsibility for delivering you to your destination. See: www.nirailways.co.uk  

Founded in 1968 to operate the railway services of the former Ulster Transport Authority, the present company manages approximately 210 route miles/342 kilometres including the Belfast-Dublin main line, a line to Coleraine and Londonderry, with a branch line from Coleraine to Portrush, and suburban routes from Belfast to Portadown, Bangor, and L arne.

If I had to choose the most outstanding train rides in the UK I would probably go for those available from www.luxury-trains.co.uk   I can honestly say that a round trip aboard the Royal Scotsman or the Northern Belle would be money well spent.

My dream train journey may be something of a disappointment to anglophiles, as for years I have drooled over Orient Express brochures and longed to make the world’s most elegant train journey all the way to Venice. Broadband internet merely made things worse as I now enjoy downloading journey videos from www.orient-express.com.

Just this week, I discovered a phenomenal train trip that has almost diverted my attention. www.bluetrain.co.za   will take you on one of the world’s greatest train journeys and let you explore South Africa in comfort. This train offers so much luxury - hey you even get your own bath tub. Opulence like this verges on decadence - just my cup of tea!

Sadly the price of a Blue Train ticket is tad prohibitive so I suggest you content yourself with a quick flip from Euston to Birmingham New Street to cast an eye over the latest restoration works at historic Moor Street Railway Station. If you never get to visit the Midlands then www.railaroundbirmingham.co.uk has some great pictures.

Before you go away with the idea that ‘anoraks r us’ just take a moment to think about all you have seen. The railways represent the very best of British engineering and shows world class industrial ingenuity for the price of a rail ticket. Now that is what I call value. It is almost worth becoming a train-spotter… I did say almost!

Ray Hatley is a freelance journalist working for a number of national newspapers ands magazines.


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