Last month we travelled to London to see the mighty Kings of Leon at BST Hyde Park festival as well as doing a few tourist things too. We didn’t particularly want to fly or drive so we looked into going by train instead. I had never experienced a train journey longer than 40 minutes so I was interested to see what it would be like travelling first class on Virgin Trains in a wheelchair for 4.5 hours from Glasgow to London.
Virgin Trains very kindly offered complimentary tickets in return for an honest review of the accessibility and as you’ll discover from this review, there are good points and some not so good points.
Once I booked our tickets online, I then went ahead and booked assistance online too. Booking assistance with Journey Care ensures the stations know what help you require, making your journey a lot less stressful and ensures you get the assistance you need on the day of travel. The wheelchair and carer/companions seats are 1, 3 & 4, which you can see in the image above.
Glasgow Central Station
We arrived at Glasgow Central Station in plenty of time for our 11:40am train. This gave us time to use the accessible toilet (just in case the accessible toilet onboard was out of order) and print out our tickets from the Fast Ticket Machine. Printing the tickets was quick and easy.
We also made ourselves known to the staff at the Mobility Point desk, who asked if we required assistance to the train, but we were happy to make our own way there as long as someone was there to help me onto the train.
When it was time to board we made our way down the long platform to the very end as we were seated in coach J. There is a mobility cart that can drive you to the train if you have difficulty walking. There was two staff waiting at the entrance of coach J and the ramp was already positioned for me by the time we got there. The two women were busy talking to each other that they failed to ask if I needed any help, thankfully I didn’t.
Accessibility onboard Virgin Trains
As I drove into coach J I was pleasantly surprised at how spacious it was especially the wheelchair space and how close it was to the accessible toilet. Usually, the accessible spaces on trains are next to the smelly toilets, but that wasn’t the case on this Virgin Train. There was an automatic door separating the coach from the toilet and it wasn’t smelly at all.
The wheelchair space is classed as seat 1, Allan had seats 3 & 4, which can only be booked with the wheelchair space so, therefore, cannot be booked online. One of these seats is reserved for a companion. There was a table between Allan and me, which was height adjustable on my side.
There was an emergency call button at the side of me and lots of space behind, giving me lots of room for moving. Plug points on both sides of the table made it easy for both Allan and me to charge our phones and work on our laptop. If I didn’t have a full wheelchair battery, I might have charged that too.
As I mentioned early there was an accessible toilet onboard and it was in working order during both journeys, to and from London. Although I didn’t use the toilet, we made sure to take some photos of it. It wasn’t tiny but it wasn’t large either, probably just big enough to fit a wheelchair inside and a companion as long as you can manage in tight spaces.
The journey and service to London
We were quickly served drinks soon after leaving Glasgow and the journey, on the whole, was pretty smooth with the occasional bump. I have to admit the staff serving the food and drinks were not very helpful or friendly, in particular, the service manager who was rude and abrupt when I asked a simple question, which was disappointing.
When the complimentary food cart came by we asked what the vegan options were as there was no menu on our table. They shrugged their shoulders, blankly stared at us and said they had no idea. This was very awkward and made us feel a nuisance. I felt like they should have been more helpful and known more about the food they are serving as I’m sure we’re not the first and certainly won’t be the last to ask questions like this.
We decided to check for ourselves by searching for the menu online. We opted for the only vegan options, poppadum’s & chutney and seeds & super-roots salad. You can view the First Class menus here.
The train manager was great though by making sure we were okay and called ahead to London to confirm assistance was definitely booked for us.
Onboard Wi-Fi & Entertainment Service
I’m not going to lie, the thought of a four and a half hour train journey filled me with dread. As much as I enjoy reading a good book, I’m not one for reading while I’m on the go. I’d love to, but I just can’t-do it as holding the book even for short periods hurts my arms, back, neck.
While I was researching Virgin Trains I discovered they have onboard Wi-Fi and a great entertainment service called BEAM. You can get access to films, TV shows, games, and magazines. Make sure you download the app before your train journey as I made the mistake of waiting until I was on the train to London, only to discover it wouldn’t download. Oops! I was able to connect the laptop to the Wi-Fi though so I managed to read up on the news and work on my blog on both journeys.
However, I made sure we both had the BEAM app on our phones for the return journey as I couldn’t get it to work on the laptop.
After four amazing days in London, it was time to head home. Again we had time to spare before our train departed for Glasgow, so we had some lunch in Euston Station.
We then made our way to the Virgin Trains first class lounge (a perk of travelling first class) on the first floor via the lift. Still full from our lunch we didn’t want anything to eat or drink. It felt good to relax in the lounge away from the busy crowds in departures and enjoy the air conditioning as it was way too hot in the station.
Before leaving the Virgin Trains first class lounge I wanted to use the accessible toilet. I was impressed by the size of the toilet and it even had a walk-in shower. There was plenty of grab rails both pull-down and fixed. An emergency pull cord was positioned beside the toilet and one in the shower. I always carry Euan’s Guide red emergency cord cards with me so I ensured we attached one before leaving.
We headed for our train and were pleased to see that assistance was already waiting for us with the ramp, ready to place it in position. I loved how quick and easy it was to board the train. No hassle at all.
The journey and service to Glasgow
Just like on our journey to London, we had the same seats on our return journey. This time the journey was much smoother and the service from the staff was fantastic. All the train staff were helpful and friendly, which is what I had expected from Virgin Trains.
As we were heading home on Sunday the complimentary food and drink service is much less compared to during the week. This wasn’t a problem as we were still full from our big lunch, but we enjoyed some tea, orange juice, and fruit.
The train became very quiet around the halfway point, which was nice and relaxing. This was a perfect opportunity for Allan to relax while I caught up on some blog work and emails. A great way to end a fantastic trip.
We left sunny London and arrived back in rainy Glasgow. Assistance was waiting on us as the train pulled in and we were quickly off the train making our way swiftly along the platform to get out of the rain.
Top tips for booking cheap train tickets
- Book in advance
- Get a disabled person railcard
- Look out for discounts and special offers
- Avoid Peak times
- Be flexible
Considering it was a 4.5-hour train journey, it didn’t really feel like it. Thankfully the time passed fairly quickly and we were both able to pass the time by chatting, working and playing games on BEAM. I really liked the ease of travelling by train as a wheelchair user and it was a nice change from travelling by car and plane. Travelling first class was completely wheelchair accessible and I found the wheelchair space comfortable as well as spacious. Assistance was waiting for us at both stations and access on/off the train was incredibly easy. In saying that I’d definitely consider travelling to London again in first class with Virgin Trains, especially if the price was reasonable and I was able to grab a good deal on the tickets.
I was welcomed as a guest of Virgin Trains for the purpose of this review but as always all opinions expressed are honest and my own.