Accessible Train Travel: CrossCountry First Class
It's been a while, but I've finally managed to do another first-class train review for you all! With the Virgin West Coast review done late last year, it's time to review Cross Country's first class on their class 220/221 Voyager trains. On this journey, I travelled from Reading to Edinburgh, a journey time of 6h30.
The First Class section on the Voyager trains is actually disappointing when it comes to travelling as a wheelchair user if you're staying in your chair on the journey. Why? Because the wheelchair space is on its own in a corner with the only companion seats being 2 seats to the right of the wheelchair space. When you consider that you can use other train operators for some journeys (even if requiring multiple changes) whose trains have the ability for a wheelchair user to sit at a table with up to two people with them, you'll see why I don't like the layout. Luckily for me, I transfer out of my chair on all of my journeys by rail.
The layout of the first class section is a 2-1 configuration with some tablet seats that sit up to 4 people on 1 side and 2 on the other. There's also airline style seats with flip-up tables. The seats nearest the windows have plug sockets, and all seats in the first class section have a recline function. All trains are also fitted with Wi-Fi which until a few months ago was free to those only in First Class, unfortunately, since then it's been free to all passengers which has massively slowed the download speed when connected. One thing to note about the layout however, is that if you're a wheelchair user and you want to transfer out of your chair into a seat, the aisle in first class is wide enough that I've been able to get my wheelchair down it, which is perfect if you're travelling with friends or family as it alleviates the problem of being sat apart from those you're travelling with.
The service on weekdays in First Class is impeccable. The first class section of the train is served by its own host who came through after every stop to offer drinks and snacks up until Newcastle. At Birmingham New Street we were also loaded with hot meals, of which I was lucky enough to be able to try 2 due to how long my journey to Edinburgh was. My hot meals were the Chilli Con Carne which was very nice, and the Vegetable Biryani which was also just as pleasing. Before the hot meals were loaded onto the service at Birmingham, I was also offered a choice of a sandwich of which I chose the chicken salad option. The one really interesting thing that I like about CrossCountry's food presentation is that the dishes that the meals are served on are made from Bamboo, which is part of the company's mission to be more responsible when it comes to waste. This is something I'm sure will please the more environmentally conscious traveller. The only thing I wish CrossCountry would do differently, is to have metal cutlery and reusable cups/glasses similar to the likes of Virgin Trains West Coast and LNER, as this would also further help them on their mission to become more environmentally friendly as well as looking for pleasing on the eye to passengers in First Class.
Overall, the product that CrossCountry offers in First Class is reasonable and I would happily use it on those journeys when I don't want to change loads, go into London, or where it doesn't make sense to fly. However, I'm in a position where when making the trip to places like Edinburgh and Manchester by train instead of flying, going into London is an option, and the availability of a somewhat more superior service in First Class on train operating companies out of London means that unless CrossCountry have tickets that are significantly cheaper, then those companies are currently more preferable on longer journeys.