Today was the earliest start of the entire week as our first train departed Holyhead at 0532. Known within enthusiast circles as The WAG (Welsh Assembly Government-funded) Express, this is a once daily loco-hauled service between Holyhead and Cardiff Central, timed to appeal to commuters and shoppers bound for the Welsh capital. I conveniently timed return train from Cardiff also operates, worked by the same stock. It is operated by Arriva Trains Wales who refer to it as The Premier Service.
First Class travel requires a compulsory reservation, or so the timetable states. A total of 24 seats are located in First Class and at no point today did more than 13 travel at any one time, ourselves included. We reserved out seats but the depot at Holyhead had run out of reservations slips.
Another very friendly and approachable Arriva Trains Wales guard worked the service, being relieved at Chester. She even offered to photograph us both, spotting we were making the most of the journey. A number of regular passengers appear to travel, with one chap having his coffee poured for him before he took his seat. Service indeed.
Four mk2s were hauled by 57313, which we understand is allocated to Virgin Trains, though the entire set was in Arriva Trains Wales livery. It was a very civilised start to the day and the complimentary three-course breakfast was superb. It was another one of those absolutely faultless journeys.
There then followed a gap in First Class travel for precisely 5:30 as we headed west on one of Arriva's Sprinter services to Fishguard Harbour. The 1057 departure was formed of 150260. The female guard's announcements prior to departing were not what I considered "text book" but they ensured no one was on the wrong train. Sometimes this tack can prevent considerable inconvenience to both passengers and crews alike. Basically, two trains were on Platform 4A about six feet apart and she ensure quite successfully that no one boarded our train by mistake.
We only stopped twice in the 2:28 journey to Fishguard Harbour, with the '150' running at top speed (75mph) at almost every possible occasion. Almost an express service for such a unit.
We arrived early so had longer than the booked 5 minutes at Fishguard Harbour. There's no arrow of indecision noticeable at the station, nor is there any traditional railway-style station name. A load boarded, fresh from the Stenna Line ferry that was berthed opposite and at 1330 we began our return. The train was booked to Cheltenham but we alighted after half-an-hour or so at Whitland.
There appears to be very little to do here so we stayed on Platform 1 and a few minutes ahead of time ATW's 153303 arrived, bound for Swansea. It has come from Pembroke Dock. I didn't consider that it would be a '153'; indeed, I assumed it would be a busy run as in the relatively short distance it had travelled a total of 9 stations had been called at. The train, however, was dead quiet and after a crew change (and reversal at Carmarthen) we arrived early into Swansea.
Next was First Great Western to London Paddington. Our '153' was due to arrive 6 minutes before a London train left so I'd booked us on the one an hour later, but we managed to catch the 1528, formed of 43026 (leading) and 43165 (trailing). The last time I travelled in FGW's First Class was in 2005 and since then the ambiance has been improved no end with leather seating throughout. A problem with the heating in Coach G meant that few people wanted to sit in there so our coach (H) was very busy indeed.
Just outside Didcot Parkway we slowed very quickly indeed and moved onto the Down Main line to pass a failed HST. We believe it was the 1500 Newquay-Paddington. We were incredibly lucky not having to even stop as there are onto two lines along this section of route. The delay was just 13 minutes in total.
Time for our second (and final) bus ride of the jaunt: Stagecoach East London's Service 205 (Paddington Basin - Bow Church) between Piccadilly and Euston. We had 15102 (LX09 FYY), a Scania OmniCity - an integral bus that is rare within the Stagecoach Group (though purchased by East London Bus Group before Stagecoach re-purchased the operation at the end of last year).
I'm typing today's entry up in Virgin's First Class Lounge before we head to Aberdeen using the ScotRail's Caledonian Sleeper service. I'd hoped for a quick photo to upload but when we arrived at 1910 it had yet to pull onto Platform 15. Problems on the MML mean Euston is very busy, with passengers being permitted travel with London Midland and change at Tamworth.
I'll upload the Sleeper shots to the start of tomorrow's blog. There would otherwise be precious few photos of different trains as will become evident...