Railways rarely get accolades these days, but that’s because not enough people have sampled the delights of Wrexham & Shropshire, writes Michael Palin.
It may not be very convenient if you live in Manchester or Edinburgh but I’m afraid that’s your loss. After a return rail trip to Shrewsbury last month I would advise you to move to Shropshire right away. The trains are short, but that means the staff have more time for you. Do you know of anywhere else on today’s railway where you’d hear the words “I’ll show you to your seat”?
And that’s only the start of the Wrexham & Shropshire experience. The service is friendly, unrushed and genuinely concerned with your comfort.
As it was, I had no complaints, but I know that if I had, they would have been taken very seriously. Everyone on board seems to enjoy delivering a service dedicated to raising, not lowering standards.
The route is interesting too. Leaving Marylebone – London’s most laid back and attractive main-line station – the train rolls north through John Betjeman’s Metroland and once into Oxfordshire, through long stretches of countryside.
For an hour or more you could be forgiven for thinking that the Industrial Revolution never happened. Then, as if emerging from some economic time warp, you’re suddenly in the heartland of the industrial West Midlands. Wrexham & Shropshire doesn’t have much time for Coventry or Birmingham International, both of which it sails through. The first big city it serves is Wolverhampton – lucky Wolverhamptoners.
I have had cause to visit Shrewsbury on and off over the past few years and, lacking a direct rail route, have opted for a long and often grinding slog on the motorway. Now that Wrexham & Shropshire provides a through service, I arrived in Shrewsbury, just over three hours after leaving London and feeling in altogether better shape, having done some work and enjoyed a fine meal, cooked to order on the train with food sourced from local areas.
This is not the airline food on a tray that so many trains offer, it’s like the very best home cooking.
Perhaps it lacks the hurtling speed of a Pendolino or a TGV, but Wrexham & Shropshire makes up for this in every other way. Nothing is sacrificed for speed, and yet passenger satisfaction figures are at the top end of the scale.
Which surely shows us that people rate a railway on how they’re treated on the train. Wrexham & Shropshire may seem like a throw-back to old-style comforts but I see it as a pioneer setting an example of high service standards which other lines would do well to follow.
As one who travelled on this train I would wholeheartedly concur with his comments, the comfort and customer care provided by Wrexham and Shropshire was second to none and I would very much hope that Michael Palin will take that short step from Shrewsbury to visit Wrecsam in the very near future.