Operator: Great Western Railway Headcode: 1C11 Route: PAD-BRI Class: First Seat: K23 Date: Monday 23rd September 2019
The last planned trip of my busy August and September was a couple of days in Bristol, travelling to Bristol Temple Meads (TM) station and back with Great Western Railway (GWR). GWR run four trains an hour to Bristol, with two an hour heading to Bristol TM via Bath and two calling at Bristol Parkway en route to South Wales. This is my second trip with GWR since I’ve been running Flights and Times and I was looking forward to comparing the InterCity Express Train (IET) first-class product with the one I experienced on a High Speed Train (HST), shortly before their retirement. You can read about that journey from Penzance to Exeter here.
As I’d purchased first-class tickets, I was entitled to visit GWR’s first-class lounge at Paddington which is situated on platform 1. The lounge is fairly spacious with a modernised area with seats, a TV and workspaces as well as a quieter area which is located in the former waiting room of King George VI. There are areas in both parts of the lounge where drinks and a small range of pastries and biscuits are provided as well as complimentary newspapers being available near the entrance.
About 20 minutes before departure I headed back to the main concourse under Brunel’s impressive train shed and the platform for my train was soon announced. GWR’s inter-city fleet are now a mix of the various classes of Hitachi IET, with GWR operating the class 800 and 802 from Paddington. My 1100 service to Bristol TM was formed of two five car class 800s, with my reserved seat being located in coach K within the rear half of the train. On these 10 car services, there are four half coaches of first-class, coaches D&E in one half and coaches K&L in the other.
As with their Azuma equivalents on the East Coast Mainline, the GWR IETs have fabric covered seats in first-class rather than leather, however this is the only difference as the 1-2 layout is fairly standard for first-class with there also being a mix on single and facing seats. The most noticeable difference when comparing the IET with HSTs is the improved acceleration which allows the trains to be at full speed very soon after departure. As with most other UK train operating companies there is no entertainment provided, however all seats in first class have both USB and standard power sockets available.
Within ten minutes of our departure from Paddington, a member of the on-board crew came through to provide the on-board service which was fairly standard compared to most operators. There was a choice of tea, coffee, juice or water along with a selection of sandwiches, crisps and biscuits and my option of the chicken, bacon and stuffing sandwich was extremely tasty.
Having travelled a lot on local services on the Great Western Mainline (GWML), I had forgotten just how quick journeys with GWR could be and was surprised when less than 25 minutes after leaving Paddington we were pulling into Reading. Reading is a station that has greatly improved in recent years, with Network Rail having undertaken a massive rebuild providing a better layout for train services and better facilities for passengers. West of Reading station is the Reading Train Maintenance Depot, home of GWR’s commuter class 387 fleet as well as the stabling point for the Night Riviera.
The Night Riviera is one of three sleeper services that operate within the UK and the only one to operate from London Paddington. Along with the Highland and Lowland sleepers, the Night Riviera allows passengers to leave London in the evening and wake up in the extremities of the UK the following morning (or vice a versa). Connecting London with Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, seated tickets on the sleeper can cost as little as £31.50 for the 8-hour journey to Penzance, however it costs a minimum of £55 on top of this for a bed.
Beyond Reading, the services to Bristol TM call at Didcot Parkway and Swindon before the South Wales Mainline leaves the GWML at Wootton Basset Junction. Both of these towns are key parts of the GWML’s history, with Didcot home to the former home of a GWR engine shed and Swindon being the former home of the original GWR’s locomotive works. As well as continuing to be major railway junctions, both towns have kept the railway’s history alive with the Didcot Railway Centre and Swindon Steam Railway Museum operating on the former GWR sites.
After leaving the westerly route of the South Wales Mainline, the GWML heads south-west through Wiltshire, calling at Chippenham before passing through Brunel’s famous Box Tunnel en route to Bath Spa. Box Tunnel took three years to construct and at almost 3km long was the longest railway tunnel in the world when opened. As well as being extremely long at the time of construction, the tunnel’s 1 in 100 gradient was also unconventionally steep and supposedly drew criticism from Brunel’s peers. The most famous rumour relating to the tunnel is that on April 9th, Brunel’s birthday, the rising sun would shine directly through the tunnel. Unfortunately, this isn’t true due to the variation in the angle of the rising sun due to leap years.
Shortly before Bath Spa, the on-board crew came through the carriage and instead of wheeling through the trolley, took individual drinks orders before returning to the galley to make these. Pulling into Bath Spa a minute early was further evidence of the IET’s impressive acceleration, with us having arrived at every station en route early and having extended stops to allow the time timetable to catch up with us. Most impressively, on the schedules 13-minute run between Reading and Didcot we had shaved 3 minutes off the run, arriving into Didcot just 10 minutes after leaving Reading.
Unfortunately, despite the train’s impressive performance, the railway gods were against us and on the approach to Bath Spa we were caught behind a late local service. With the local service also calling at the smaller stations between Bath and Bristol, unfortunately the four-minute wait outside Bath wasn’t the full extent of our delay. Continuing to follow the River Avon towards the sea, we approached the wonderful Temple Meads station from the north and arrived eight minutes late at 1253.
In conclusion, I was extremely impressed with my first journey in first-class on a GWR IET. The train itself was brilliant, and the improved acceleration didn’t at all detract from the ride quality and comfort experienced in the passenger cabin. The on-board crew were extremely friendly and attentive and whilst the food offering wasn’t as great as on some train operators, the quality of what was offered was excellent. All in all, I’d certainly pay the extra to travel in first-class with GWR again and on arrival into Bristol I was looking forward to my return journey to London a couple of days later.
Lounge 4* Seat/Facilities 4* Food 3* Service 5* Punctuality 4* Overall Rating 20/25 (read about my rating system here!)