Vital information for train travellers

Or trivial information perhaps.

So, having been out of the country for some time I’m getting on a London to Bath train. As I’m pottering along the platform I spot the train manager (conductor to us old folks). And I ask, him, sorry, been away a long time, do trains have wifi these days?

Yes, most but not all. Fire up the box and see.


Ah, and here’s the trick. As a carriage is taken out of service to be sorted out for maintenance, then they install the wifi kit.


And most carriages now have it. But not all. However, any carriage that is behind one that doesn’t have it won’t have it either, whatever is in that specific carriage.


And it always starts from carriage A. So, if A,B and C have it, but D does not, and E,F,G have it, then E,F,G won’t work because D doesn’t.

OK. So, always sit in A or B to have the best change?

Yep, except if you’ve a first class ticket of course. That’s G,H and so on.

What? So first class has the least chance of having wifi?

Yes. Lovely piece of planning that, isn’t it?

Err, yes….

37 thoughts on “Vital information for train travellers”

  1. It’s done to punish those who can afford a first class ticket. I’ll bet you didn’t book the journey 5 years in advance to get the best possible price…

  2. The railway companies not thinking something through doesn’t really surprise me. I have to say, I’ve not really used WiFi on trains – they have to connect using the same mobile networks as the rest of us, so chances are I’ll be better off just using my mobile for data…

  3. Rational Anarchist,

    I just got a free upgrade to 4G and while it’s subject to demand, when it’s good, it’s really very good – I got 10mbps the other day on it.

  4. As in my experience c’e it’s people in 1st Class who are the biggest picks and don’t understand the meaning of ‘Quiet Zone’, it’s quite pleasing to think of some of them being denied the chance to be antisocial.

  5. Bloke in Germany in Bosnia

    I’ll frequently pay more for a better ride on planes and trains, but you won’t catch me using UK first class rail. Three times the price? Fuck off. In Germany, 1/3 extra is adequate to keep the hoi polloi out. I did use the £5 weekend upgrade once, and it was full of wankers on their phones talking about being in first class the whole journey.

  6. Surreptitious Evil

    First Class on the Virgin West Coast line can be fine. Last time it got a bit raucous at Dudley. A load of brummidgen pensioners off to the Chelsea Flower Show.

    Perfectly happy that the experience in the Home Counties and the West Country may be much less pleasant.

    We basically look at the mileage cost and, if they are vaguely similar, take the train.

  7. I used to use it everyday commuting between Manchester and Leeds. Even at Godawful o’clock in the morning, the scramble for seats from Huddersfield looks like misery.

    Transpennine Express used to have complementary breakfast boxes and free coffee, and after the price difference between FC with that and Cattle class with coffee (only) from the station, the difference was about £20 a week. Well worth it for a decent seat, a table and peace & quiet.

  8. they’re retrofitting wifi kit onto trains that have been in service since the 1970s – and it is PANTS. I get that train most days to and from and the wifi is shocking. But it’s free so complaining seems a bit curmudgeonly

  9. “In Germany, 1/3 extra is adequate to keep the hoi polloi out.”

    Years ago, but we found First Class in Italy a delight, and pretty cheap. It’s really refreshing to visit a country that unambiguously run for the bourgeoisie, isn’t it?

  10. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I’ve been out of the UK sufficiently long to find train fares utterly hair-raising. Last time I had to go long-distance I was going Southampton to Edinburgh. Flybe cost about 40% of what the train would have, and got us there in 40 minutes, without having to struggle halfway across London in the rush hour (incidentally, why the ever-living FUCK is this Crossrail project East-West when the gaping omission in the UK’s rail network is a high speed line from South to North? I should be able to get on a train in Portsmouth Harbour and get off in Newcastle)

  11. “why the ever-living FUCK is this Crossrail project East-West when the gaping omission in the UK’s rail network is a high speed line from South to North?”

    Because cross rail is built for London, not for the UK.

  12. @Dearime,

    Do Laahnderners even realise that there is a world outside the M25?

    The UK rail system in the South is based on the presumption that you want to go to, or at worst through, London. So, in the absence of any decent semblance of a North-South link that avoids London, perhaps Londoners should realise that getting people who don’t want to be in London through it as quickly as possible and with a minimum of fuss might be not only good for those people who live outside the walls, but for them too by reducing congestion?

    Or I guess you can take the chugging Turbodiesel local stopping service from Guildford to Reading, change, and change again at Birmingham to get to points further North…

  13. Luke

    If one of the wilder correspondents on this blog expressed the same sentiments about, say, Chinese or Japanese tourists or Polish workers I presume you wouldn’t be impressed.

  14. I’ve used wifi on Greater Anglia Ipswich to London sometimes. It’s hit & miss & not really useful for serious work.

    As for First Class, Greater Anglia seems to get everyone else’s cast-offs, so while it’s better than Cattle, that’s not saying much. Virgin on WCML & GWR to Newton Abbott were palatial by comparison. The best FC experiences I’ve had were the DB trains out of Interlaken and the Glacier Express from Brig to Chur, with lunch. The Swiss are the model to aspire to IMHO.

  15. @SE – “A load of brummidgen pensioners off to the Chelsea Flower Show.” – if they got on at Dudely (and Sandwell) then they would likely be Black Country folk, not Brummies.

  16. The Swiss are the model to aspire to IMHO.

    Not always though. The Swiss still run some rather dated 1980’s rolling stock on their non-international inter city services. Clean and well maintained but none of the comforts you get on DB’s double decker or ICE services.

    Got told off by a Swiss ticket inspector for boarding one of their old stock thinking it was a local train to the airport. When she told me that this was an “Inter City” service and my ticket wasn’t valid I looked around and “You’re joking surely?”, she just smiled and toddled off. I suspect she was of the same opinion, but too polite to say so to a foreigner.

  17. Why do people want shiny new railway rolling-stock – it’s all nastier than the 70s stuff, and most of it less reliable to boot.

    The aging HST units FGW are running have considerably more leg room for their cattle class occupants than the shiny new stuff virgin inflicted on the wcml – and the toilets don’t tend to stink the whole carriage out either.

    When they withdrew the last of the old slam door commuter stock from the south east 3rd rail network, it’s clanky old 1930s drive technology, and epic simplicity meant that the last few worn out and unloveded units were still averaging considerably more miles between failure than the best figures any of the various types of replacement have ever managed (and the old units were doing over double the mile/failure of some of the worse replacements).
    However, rather than just building more of a proven design that was ideal for the job (and essentially what BR had done from their 1930’s precursors till the early 1980s) our stupid overlords decreed that they could reinvent the wheel. Which they did, as a square, and then insisted this was an improvement, cos it was modern, and the doors opened and shut when you pushed a button. (Some of the time – a good deal of the failures on most modern rolling stock is various forms of door fault!)

    It’s no better in the freight world – we have several fleets of aging locos currently doing all the work with no serious replacements available (e.g. moronic EU emissions requirements caused the end of class 66 production, with nothing better available as a direct replacement), meanwhile for maintenance access to some parts of the network the ONLY option is to continue to maintain 1950’s built class 37’s as nothing else newer has the axle loadings to compete. (You’d never be allowed to build a new class 37, hence they move heaven and earth to keep some of the existing fleet serviceable).

  18. @ John Galt
    On my last (only one as an adult) trip to Schweiz I was told that my ticket wasn’t valid and I replied that I had been sold it by SwissRail in London to cover whichever train I needed from Zurich airport to Meiringen and she told me that it was only valid for the fast train* but she’d let me off this time but I *must* take the fast train back.
    I suspect that they have discretion to let off ignorant (mainly British) foreigners who make innocent mistakes.
    *One only valid for the slow train would have been cheaper.

  19. My answer (in English) when there’s a ticketing problem in CH is “that’s what the machine gave me”.

    Had a problem when the route I chose home one evening just went outside the “Tarifenverbund”, and the machine had sold me a zoned ticket rather than a point-to-point (via somewhere) ticket.

  20. Bloke in Germany in Bosnia

    Has the Swiss system changed recently? I thought all tickets were valid on all trains (with the exception of a few international trains with mandatory reservations). Swiss rail are slow and have dated seating arrangements – even in first you have to sit facing someone you don’t know, which I find uncomfortable.

    Incidentally I also commuted Transpennine (or the other one), Manchester to Sheffield for some years. Pretty sure the seats in first were the same, and there was definitely no free scran.

  21. Normally, yes, they are all valid on all trains on a certain route. But they can get complicated when using the zoned systems. Around us, the zone system hammers us totally for some reason, over fairly short distances (20 mins).

    Normally, I take the car…

  22. The last time I went by Swiss railways, my train was late. Only 3 minutes, but still late. Shattered my illusions.

  23. And, similar to Mr Galt, I have been told off for being in 1st class in Belgium on a standard ticket. “This is First?” I asked; “how can one tell?” She pointed to a 1 sticker on the window; I thought it was the carriage number.

  24. I understand that the Cambridge to KX trains will soon become Cambridge to St Pancras, and that many will then travel on to Gatwick and Brighton. If so, it may soon be poss to travel Brighton-King’s Lynn without changing trains. So if you view Lynn as oop north, there you are: south coast to The North.

  25. @ BiGiB
    It turned out that there are two different routes from Zurich to Meiringen. I could not have been expected to know that but SwissRail should have known.

  26. @John77,

    Aah, I bet they sold you a ticket for the wrong zones for the route you took. Simplest explanation.

    TBH, these zone systems can be pretty bizarre and incomprehensible. To get from ZRH to where I used to live, I could get a slightly cheaper ticket for taking a bizarre route, cos it touched less zones. Always thought “stuff it”.

  27. @ abacab
    I specifically asked for one that could be used on any train because I didn’t know how long it would take me to get through baggage reclaim and customs.

  28. It can be used on any train, … that passes on a route that takes in no more zones than listed.

    They probably didn’t get that point.

  29. What theProle said and just wait until the northern tribes discover what they are likely to be getting by way of replacement for the Pacer units.

    Re BICR’s query about a north-south Crosslink, it’s been mooted but having spent the last 15 years struggling to get the Thameslink upgrade completed I don’t think anyone is in a hurry to try and fit in another Crosslink route as well. One of the major stumbling blocks to which would be the lack of capacity on the south of the Thames routes.

  30. Bloke in North Dorset

    June 4, 2015 at 9:12 am
    The last time I went by Swiss railways, my train was late. Only 3 minutes, but still late. Shattered my illusions.”

    On one job I worked in the suburbs of Zurich and stayed on the Marriott in the centre, almost a reverse commute. One a train was late one evening the Swiss stated to get quite agitated and were quite nonplussed when they announced the delay was because of trees on the line.

  31. So Much for Subtlety

    dearieme – “Years ago, but we found First Class in Italy a delight, and pretty cheap. It’s really refreshing to visit a country that unambiguously run for the bourgeoisie, isn’t it?”

    An Italian of impeccable left wing credentials told me recently that no one in Italy takes the train any more – they are full of illegal immigrants.

    Personally I like Spain’s trains. I liked the super fast North-South train. I liked the fact that they promised your money back if they were over 15 minutes late. I was praying that they would be but they weren’t. I was pleasantly surprised. And I used to love the small, slow regional trains that always look like they are about to break down.

    For First Class, China’s trains are surprisingly good and very reasonably priced. Japan’s Fast Trains were great the last time I was on them – but not in First Class. It is a pity that the basic economics just does not work most places.

  32. Bloke in Germany in Montenegro


    Now you are seriously confusing me. One of my personal foibles is to fly Swiss, because I get to change in Zuerich. Asides from being one of the nicest airports in the world, if you have a long enough connection (yes, I tend to engineer these), you can get a zoned ticket and pop in to town really quickly. And it’s never been a problem on any form of train, local or intercity.

  33. The ‘train late’ experience we had in CH was from Luzern to Interlaken. The route has racks on part of it and the train suddenly stopped half way up one of the racks. The conductor eventually came down to turn the brake wheels on all the carriages. Although my German wasn’t really up to it listening to the conductor, talking with one of the passengers later he said they were sending a loco up from Luzern to push us over the top. In the end, the train then began to move under its own power and it transpired that the driver had managed to mend the main fuse or something similar. We were about 1/2 hour late in Interlaken, which probably skewed Swiss Rail’s stats for months!

    Incidentally, apart from one return trip from Geneva to Jungfraujoch killing time between meetings one weekend, I’ve travelled on the rail passes that are valid all over the network for a few days, so avoiding all zone issues. They’re even valid on buses in the cities. The Swiss are very nice to foreign tourists IME!

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