Sincere apologies for the inconvenience
Virgin are so often used as an example of how to provide good service, yet every time I travel with Virgin trains I have a totally crap customer service experience.
If there was a cheaper, better faster way to travel form London to North Wales on a Friday night I’d take it. But sadly for me and the other passengers on the 7.10 from Euston last Friday Virgin trains was the only option.
Despite the snow warnings we left on time with no reported delays and we were due to arrive in Llandudno, North Wales at just after 10pm. At about 9.30pm there was an announcement that there was a broken rail up ahead and that only two trains were being let through an hour.
The guard gave their most sincere apologies for the inconvenience that this might have caused and was also sorry that they had no idea how long the delay would be. The train that left London an hour before us was at the next station and they didn’t know when that train might move. The guards’ apology sounded sincerely automated; presumably because they have to offer sincere apologies for their crap service so often they now just read it from a script.
We ground to a halt in the dark between stations and the guard apologised sincerely again that they didn’t know when we might move.
We then discovered that the track had been broken since four that afternoon. It was a shame that this wasn’t mentioned earlier, or that they stopped the train at a station where passengers could get off and make alternative onwards travel plans.
Given that we could be in the dark middle of nowhere place for an indefinite amount of time we thought the best solution would be to get a drink from the bar. The bar only took cash. In the era of contactless payment, credit and debit cards not so many people carry cash. There was a bit of a riot at the bar about this and I had quite a heated debate with several thirsty cashless passengers. Thankfully I had enough cash to get an overpriced wine for my friend and me. A thirsty cashless man asked if I might buy him a drink. So with my last change I got him a tin of gin and tonic – for which he pledged he would be ever grateful. I was happy to buy him a drink and hope one day, in a cashless gin o clock situation that someone would play forward the favour.
Some time later the train crawled forward and we pulled into Prestatyn and even though we didn’t really know where Prestatyn was, we decided to cut our losses, and get off the train. Icy rain was pissing down and the wind was howling and it was pitch dark.
Then I spotted the man I bought a gin and tonic with another man, who it turned out had also bought him a drink. Still clutching his gin and tonic it as if his life depended on it, he greeted me like a long lost friend and promised to get us to our guesthouse in Llandudno safely.
Gin and tonic man was called Andy, and 10 minutes later his mate arrived in a small car to pick us all up.
Three of us wedged ourselves into the back of the car. I think that Andy had charmed quite a lot of people on the train to buy him a drink as we got a gin slurred tour of the area, its history as well as his stream of consciousness about his life and loves interspersed with huge appreciation that I bought him a drink.
The highlight was when we got to the sea. He broke out into a slurred rendition of the Wham 80s classic of Club Tropicana. To which we all joined in. Well actually we sang several renditions, including some good trumpet solos until we pulled up at our guesthouse.
I’m ever grateful for Andy for rescuing us or we might still be on that crappy cold train waiting for our slot to crawl over the damaged line.
Thank you. And the learning for me is to always, given the opportunity to buy a stranger a gin and tonic.