Operator: Chiltern Railways Headcode: 1R33 Route: MYB – BMO Class: Business Zone Seat: 10 Date: Tuesday 15th October 2019
In October I headed to Birmingham for an event and decided to sample what would be a new product for me, Chiltern Railway’s Business Zone. I’ve traveled up the Chiltern Mainline to Birmingham multiple times, enticed by the extremely cheap advance fares available, however I’ve never been lucky enough to time my trip to coincide with one of the handful of trains each day that have the Business Zone available.
These handful of services are operated by locomotive hauled stock, with one of the carriages (generally at the London end) dedicated to the Business Zone. The Business Zone is an odd product as it falls outside the standard National Rail fares structure and sits in a weird middle ground between standard class and first. You can’t buy a ticket for the Business Zone online, instead having to purchase a standard class ticket and then buying a £10 upgrade voucher on-board or from a ticket office.
I had an advance ticket for 1R33, the 1310 Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street with intermediate stops at High Wycombe, Banbury, Leamington Spa, Warwick Parkway and Solihull. End to end this journey takes 1 hour 49 minutes which is about 20 minutes slower than the competing fast services on the West Coast Mainline, but slightly quicker than the stopping equivalents. For advance standard class tickets, Chiltern generally tends to be cheaper and these tickets can also generally be purchased closer to the date of travel.
Upon boarding, the interior of the Business Zone carriage is very similar to what I’ve come to expect from the first-class carriages on other TOCs. Laid out in a 1-2 configuration, every seat had access to a table and power sockets and unrestricted WiFi was available. Where the Business Zone differs from first-class is the lack on any refreshments, with Chiltern not providing catering on any of their services. Despite this, a bottle of water was available at each seat, which alone is almost half of the on-board offering of some first-class products.
Departing on-time, and with 68012 at the business end, we quickly accelerated out of Marylebone and headed north, adjacent to London Underground’s (LU) Jubilee and Metropolitan lines. There was a period in Marylebone’s history when it was penciled for closure and plans made for the Metropolitan line to be extended to Aylesbury, something ‘relatively simple’ due to the mainline services running over LU tracks between Harrow and Amersham.
Having settled in for the journey, I connected to the WiFI and noticed that ‘Chil.tv’ was been advertised on the landing page. Investigating further, I discovered that Chiltern in fact provide ‘in-train entertainment’ via the on-board WiFi, with access to a number of shows from UKTV Play; NOW TV and Hayu. Similar to Virgin’s former ‘BEAM’ entertainment system, Chil.tv is accessed via the internet when on WiFi and not via a pre-downloaded app.
Given that there is no on-board service provided, the main advantage of travelling in the Business Zone is a quieter and more spacious environment to work. From previous experience I’ve found that even off-peak, Chiltern’s Birmingham services can become quite busy, especially as the services approach the Midlands. Despite this, the Business Zone remained peaceful throughout the journey, with only two other passengers sharing the carriage with me.
Arriving into one of Moor Street’s bay platforms, I was surprised at just how many people alighted from the train and was glad that I’d spent the £10 to upgrade. As always Chiltern got me to my destination on time without issue and the journey was as comfortable as ever. Although travelling via the Chiltern route is slightly slower, the scenery is wonderful and the stations at either end are much nicer places to wait than either Euston or New Street. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to travel with Chiltern again, or spend the tenner to upgrade in future.
Lounge 0* Seat/Facilities 4* Food 0* Service 5* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 15/25 (read about my rating system here!)