Operator: Great Western Railway Headcode: 1A23 Route: BRI-PAD Class: First Seat: K26 Date: Wednesday 25th September 2019
After a couple of days in Bristol visiting friends and exploring the city, I was back at the wonderful Bristol Temple Meads station for my journey back to London. Temple Meads was originally opened in 1840 as the western terminus of the Great Western Railway from London Paddington. As with the rest of the railway, Temple Meads was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, although his original station is no longer part of the current operational station.
In 2015 First Great Western was renamed Great Western Railway (GWR) and this present day GWR operates the vast majority of services from Bristol TM, with CrossCountry and South Western Railway also serving the station. Unfortunately, as with the vast majority of stations served by GWR, there is no first-class lounge, however there is a wide range of shops and cafés available.
Trains arriving from London and terminating at Bristol TM generally have about 45 minutes before departing back east. Having arrived early at the station, I had headed to the platform and saw the inbound service from London arrive formed of 800026 and 800008, GWR’s ‘Trainbow’ liveried unit. With about 30 minutes to go before departure, and after checking with the platform staff, I boarded the train and found my seat in coach K.
As with my journey to Bristol a couple of days earlier I was fortunate that my reserved seat was one of the individual seats with its own table. As mentioned in previous posts, GWR’s first-class is laid out in a standard 1-2 formation with every seat having a table and its own USB and standard power sockets. With this train being formed of two five-car Intercity Express Trains (IET), there were two first class sections, with these being found at the London end of each IET. On the nine-car IETs, there is just one larger first-class section.
With an on-time departure from Bristol, I was looking forward to seeing how the IET would perform given its improved acceleration in comparison to GWR’s former High Speed Trains. On my journey west the train had arrived into each station a couple of minutes early, however unfortunately a late running local service meant we had arrived late into Bristol. I was hoping that on our journey east there wouldn’t be any delays and the final run from Reading to Paddington would allow the train to show its full potential.
As with most services from Bristol TM to London, we were scheduled to stop at Bath Spa, Chippenham, Swindon, Didcot Parkway and Reading on our journey to the capital. Just after our departure from Bath the on-board service commenced with a light selection being provided including a Chicken & Bacon sandwich, crisps and a slice of fruitcake as well as the usual selection of hot drinks and juice.
Chippenham is the first station after junctions in both directions, with the Wessex Mainline diverging from the Great Western Mainline (GWML) to the south of the station and the South Wales Mainline converging between there and Swindon at Wootton Bassett Junction. With the GWML only being electrified as far as Wootton Bassett (the wires continue on to Cardiff via the South Wales Mainline), our stop at Swindon also marked the point where our bi-mode train switched from Diesel to Electric power.
As with my journey west, the improved acceleration of the IETs meant we were arriving into each of the stops en route a couple of minutes early. Our stop at Didcot felt like we had been delayed, possibly by the fast service from Oxford that was allowed to depart ahead of us, however we pulled out of the station exactly on time for the short run to our final intermediate stop, Reading.
Reading is a station that had undergone massive transformation in recent years (with some of this appearing on the The Railway: First Great Western television programme in recent years). The station has been completely rebuilt, with extra platforms added and track layouts remodelled, helping to reduce delays and increase capacity at the busy interchange. We departed Reading on time and with just a 25-minute run to Paddington ahead of us, I had been hopeful of us arriving a couple of minutes early. Unfortunately, a delayed Heathrow Express service interfered with the run and we eventually made it through the maze of the Paddington throat and into platform 5 four minutes late.
The catering provided by GWR in first class, whilst not to the standard of LNER or Avanti, is certainly adequate, especially for a ‘Rest of the Day’ menu. My main gripe with GWR is the lack of lounges for first class customers at most of their major stations, with only Paddington and Cardiff having them. All in all, my journey back from the west country with GWR was just as comfortable as the journey out, the staff were as excellent as I’ve always found them to be and I look forward to seeing how GWR innovates it’s product in the coming years.
Lounge 0* Seat/Facilities 4* Food 3* Service 5* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 17/25 (read about my rating system here!)